4 Ways American Universities Can Stay Relevant


Dear movers and shakers of the universities in the United States of America,

Get your heads out of the sand.

For as long as anyone can remember, your tried-and-true formula has been: use the accomplishments of your alumni to build your brand, which attracts future college applications and revenue, allowing you to be selective in choosing the most talented ones who go on to reinforce the cycle.

If you want to sustain your source of money and fame though, you must better serve the needs of the market (i.e. employers) and your customer (i.e. students).

Serving your customers will benefit you

As universities, you want to build or maintain your brand and reputation, while continuing to be profitable, no? And aren’t your students a big part of making that happen?

Then it’s time to start treating them like your valued customers, instead of lowly interns. In other words, make the $250,000 they’re spending on a college degree more than worth it.

This is what students need: real preparation and stepping stones to a secure career, as well as real leadership and collaboration skills.

By helping students get what they want, you’ll get what you’re looking for. Future alums that become successful business people, not only just those who end up as famous researchers, can bring glory to your institution.

Make an impact that actually matters

1) Be more practical. Teach students real skills that are currently in demand by employers. That means stop teaching out of outdated textbooks. We all know there’s no difference between the previous edition and the “latest edition” – it’s a lame trick to repackage and resell at inflated prices. Instead, train students on how to question and think instead of what to think. By now, everyone knows that a paper agreeing with the professor’s perspective is getting a higher grade than one that logically argues a different point.

2) Exemplify humility. So many recent grads enter companies thinking that their degree makes them experts, whereas business problems in real life contexts often have nothing to do with what their professors said in lecture.

3) Teach them more applicable skills like how to market themselves. Do you really think assigning papers to students that need to be AT LEAST x number of pages long helps them communicate more concisely and effectively in the workplace (where everyone is short on time and patience)? Universities’ lack of student-centricity (that's more than just having nice cafeterias and dorms) has led to the general workforce’s lack of empathy and client-centricity when dealing with their external and internal clients.

4) Change the way you hire. Hire professors who have diverse accomplishments, not just lifetime academics. How can someone whose five page CV – full of academic publications but without any substantial work experience in the business world – possibly be the best candidate to prepare students to be on their own? It’s ironic that formal education is supposedly for preparing students for the real world, yet schools often shield students from experiencing the world.

Right now, that degree isn’t leading to a prosperous career

When college degrees used to cost a few thousand dollars at the most, learning for learning’s sake was an acceptable outcome. But at the current price point, your customers are expecting a launch pad into a secure career, and they aren’t getting what they’re paying for – 44% of recent graduates are underemployed. That outcome is a failure.

Eventually there will be a correction in demand for $250,000 college degrees if you don’t get your act together. Just because college admission is so competitive now, does not mean it will continue to be in the future. If you don’t do anything, you will still survive in the short term, but the long term looks bleak.

If iconic brands such as Blockbuster, Borders, and Circuit City can disappear, then you’re not untouchable either.

The economic landscape has changed, so change with it

If you don’t change, your competitors will. Or new entities will appear. That’s why for-profit colleges are popping up all over the place, to try to fill the void you’re failing at.

They’re not perfect but they’re not going away anytime soon; it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out. Your government regulator friends are merely a boulder that is helplessly trying to stop the inevitable force of the river current that is the marketplace.

Instead of getting mad at your competition and trying to regulate them (by the way, the taxi and hotel industry should follow this, too), get better instead.

Conclusion

Remember who your customers are. Like we’ve said all along: to get what you want, be selfishly unselfish.

Every penny you spend going forward, ask yourself: how is this going to benefit our students?

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