Education as a business – part 1

>“We’re not in the business of trying to make money. We’re in the business of trying to educate students, and that’s a little different than selling cars,” so says Rudy Fichtenbaum, a member of the American Association of University Professors and an economics professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, in a Des Moines Register article about marketing efforts at Iowa State University.

Fichtenbaum just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand that he has to sell the college experience – the brand – if he is to have a chance to educate students. He has to get noticed, be different, inviting, relevant and truthful if he wants to get paid.

Besides Iowa State and Wright State, there are 4,166 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. that a student may choose to attend and to whom they may write their tuition check. The ones making the best argument in the most meaningful way are the ones that students will choose.

The Register story (and this WHO-TV story) highlights a proposal to allocate marketing dollars to the various colleges based on enrollment. In other words, they want to give more support to the strong colleges. They are considering acting more like a business and less like the only game in town.

Critics of the plan believe professors might start taking short cuts to keep students (So much for academic integrity.) Supporters of the concept believe that most faculty members wouldn’t tolerate a decline in academic quality. That’s brand ownership in action!

Supporters say the proposal would actually make instructors and administrators improve the educational experience so that more students want to attend that school, pursue that major and take those classes. They may even add a few sections, as indicated in the article, so students don’t have to wait for popular classes. They may integrate innovative teaching tools and methods and delivery channels.

Again, according to the article, Marc Harding, the admissions director at ISU, said colleges could attract new students by offering high-demand degree programs, and retain more students by creating learning communities and supplemental instruction. More brand ownership!

David Acker, the College of Agriculture associate dean says his enrollment budget has doubled in the last two years – reaching $53,000 – and enrollment is up – 10 percent – for the first time in four years!

It’s not perfected, yet. The concept deserves more than Fichtenbaum’s dismissive response. I hope the leadership of ISU will investigate this budgeting allocation issue within a brand framework. I hope they will take the time to understand ISU’s story and how to leverage it to make the University more relevant to more students. If they discover their brand and use it to make all decisions – including marketing decisions – they’ll be successful. They’ll attract the students they need to attract. And they’ll be able to buy a few marketing books for professor Fichtenbaum.

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