Leaders in colleges and universities have to promote the category.
University leadership is obliged to reclaim proprietorship of the category rules of engagement, what is the true nature of the “value” debate in higher education?
The notion of campus-based, in-person instruction as superior to online education is not in question. It’s by all educated accounts better, richer and more engaging. The new questions for leaders are not directed at challenging that proposition but instead in the application of measurement to it. Educators, Directors, Deans, and Presidents are compelled to address in a powerful way, for all of the interested audiences—prospects, parents, students, alumni, donors and faculty—what exactly is the value proposition, the quid pro quo. Is it really worth it?
Leading colleges and universities have to be different.
Traditionally, marketing terms have been guaranteed to generate visceral reactions from the academic community, from charges that they represent “dangerous commodity thing,” or “cosmetic distractions” to patient condescending eye rolls and dismissal. This is no longer the case with the young Turks at the top of the higher education food chain today. Innovation and differentiation are the words most used all over YouTube in thousands of college videos and millions pages of digital content to describe the way forward for universities and colleges. Unfortunately saying it is different from being it.
Innovation is change, risk, a break with convention—not strengths of members of this category. Differentiation is an even tougher challenge; many academics don’t even think it’s possible. It is, it’s happening everywhere already, the challenge is not how to be different, but how to articulate it.
Change the rules of engagement. It’s all about the how—how to act, and how to look.
In general, a value proposition is almost always a measure of customer satisfaction relative to managed expectations. Superior value, customer satisfaction, is registered when expectations are exceeded, and it’s a poor value proposition when expectations are not met.
There is only one Harvard, one Yale, one Princeton and one Stanford. Taken together they stand so far apart from the category they even have their own acronym—HYPS. It is the dream team of higher education, why would anyone want to take on the dream team at their own game? Who can say which of these is better? The statisticians at U.S. News and World Report have tried but it’s an annual toss up.
If Johnny gets into HYPS and another college, Johnny reliably goes to HYPS. This “yield” of a matriculated student with choices is the most cherished metric in the category. Is a HYPS education better for Johnny? Well it depends; does Johnny want the world to know that he was an exceptionally attractive scholar coming out of high school? Does Johnny want doors to swing open and eyebrows to rise at the mention of his accomplishment? Does Johnny want to go to graduate school?
If yes, then you betcha, Johnny should probably go to HYPS.
But perhaps Johnny wants more than that, or less. Perhaps Johnny is looking for a certain kind of college community that fits his social and learning style. Maybe Johnny is looking to join a unique and interesting community of alumni. But Johnny can’t find that school because the others he was accepted into are trying so hard to look and act like HYPS. Why would he take an imitation when the real thing is welcoming him with open arms and also the world’s most generous financial aid packages?
These schools: Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford are fabulous institutions, and wonderful places for a young person to go to college. But they are not for everyone; in fact they are not for most people.
Colleges and universities need to show Johnny that they are different, in the way they act and look—how they behave.
Because tens of thousands of other Johnnies didn’t get into HYPS, they each got into several other great schools—how will they decide?