The COVID-19 pandemic continues to curtail institutions’ traditional revenue streams. With FY21 enrollment and auxiliary revenues uncertain, many leaders are looking for alternative revenue streams to tap into to cover ongoing operating costs and new emergency expenses.
Unfortunately, even before the pandemic, alternative revenue success was difficult to generalize or replicate. There is no formula for multi-million-dollar ideas (like the University of Florida’s famed Gatorade royalties). Instead, leaders must pursue a highly diversified strategy, applying many different revenue-generating tactics across multiple areas of the institution. While few tactics will alone generate tens of millions of dollars of additional revenue, at least in the short term, they can collectively sum up to significant dollars.
To support your efforts, EAB has identified and compiled 200 replicable revenue-generating tactics into a compendium and infographic. Importantly, we published these resources prior to the pandemic, so current economic and public health pressures make some of these ideas untenable. But conversely, some tactics are especially worth considering today, as they satisfy market demands in a pandemic environment. Below, I’ve identified five alternative revenue tactics from our compendium to consider that both address COVID-specific challenges and align with institutional mission
Five alternative revenue tactics to consider in the COVID-19 environment
Expand course audit catalogs.
Offering more online classes this fall? Consider opening up more seats in courses for auditing. This may appeal to alumni or other interested parties looking to fill quarantine time or to boost skills while furloughed or looking for work.
Designate school color days, remotely or on-campus.
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Designate a date as an opportunity for students, staff, alumni, and community members to show their college pride by wearing branded merchandise. Consider joining in the already-established College Colors Day (celebrated annually on the Friday before Labor Day) or create your own annual (e.g., St. Philip’s College) or weekly (e.g., Harper College) spirit day. Partner with your university bookstore to market these opportunities and drive sales.
Importantly, institutional affinity days can work in both virtual and on-campus environments. Institutions operating remotely in the fall can celebrate institutional pride over virtual platforms (e.g., Zoom, WebEx). Meanwhile, students and faculty on campus can show off their colors through university-branded face masks (like those sold through the West Virginia University bookstore) and other protective gear. (Alumni may be eager to wear branded facemasks in their workplaces or communities, too!)
Expand safe dining options for students through local business partnerships.
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Local businesses in college towns rely heavily on students and visitors for revenue, and many have been financially hamstrung by empty campuses. To help boost local sales (and generate revenues in the process), create partnerships that allow local restaurants to sell pre-packaged, to-go options on your campus on a rotating basis—allowing you to increase safe student dining options without adding new facilities or expanding your existing food contracts. Institutions can also host food trucks during lunch each day (with socially-distanced outdoor food lines).
Install 24/7 automats.
Automats, or self-service outdoor units that sell 24-hour convenience items, are a particularly safe and appealing offering in the COVID-19 era. These are especially attractive to institutions in isolated areas or those interested in capturing market share from nearby late-night convenience stores. Five years after installing its first automat, SUNY Morrisville’s two Market24s surpassed $2 million in revenue on a campus of approximately 3,000 students.
Host outdoor movies in campus parking lots or sports fields.
Drive-in movies have made a comeback during the pandemic as a safe, socially distanced outdoor activity. Institutions can host drive-in movies in their faculty or staff parking lots—many of which sit vacant during nights or weekends anyway—and generate revenue through ticket, snack, or beverage sales. While institutions like the University of Idaho offer free admission to their drive-in or walk-up films, institutions can boost revenues and improve town-gown relationships by charging a nominal admissions fee for community members.