One Way To Differentiate A College Or University For Success

Most colleges and universities in America seem to offer the same services to their students for a varied price with minimum variation. It isn’t atypical for an institution of higher learning in the US to offer a liberal arts curriculum containing classes in English, language and a social science along with a class in physics and physical education. In addition to the former, post secondary institutions in this country ask students to declare a major and complete major courses at all levels.

Most, if not all colleges, offer an opportunity for students to pursue an internship to gain practical knowledge about the concepts and principles they have learned while in the classroom and sometimes the opportunity to do an independent study. The system seems too homogeneous to me. 

Due to the harsh competition for students that exists in higher education, colleges and universities are now offering “extra amenities” sometimes even literally shifting their business model to attract a higher number of incoming freshman and transfers to their institutions. Examples of the former include:

  1. Including Christian principles in the curriculum in order to attract more students.
  2. Requiring faculty members to live near campus to be involved in school operations 
  3. Counting on history as a means to attract a certain type of incoming freshman. *Often seen in HBCU’s. 
  4. Creating courses that are more practical in nature.
  5. Reforming the transfer student protocol to be more user friendly with community colleges. 
  6. Accepting more dual enrollment courses while students are still in high school.
  7. Creating on-line versions of their on-campus majors in order to attract non-traditional students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. 
  8. Creating more graduate programs especially masters degree programs.
  9. Offer the opportunity for students to serve while pursuing a college education.
  10. Building expensive buildings and hotel like dorms in order to impress students.
  11. Writing personal notes to potential students and having faculty call them.

And so on… All good ideas, in my opinion, by the way. Some of these attempts to recruit more students are more expensive than others, though.

They do work, for the most part. The problem is that every institution seems to be implementing most of these strategies already. Fair enough! Competition for students are here to stay, I think.

Let’s not forget that we live in an age where people aren’t having as many kids as they once did which in itself causes a direct threat to the system of higher education in the United States. Let’s also keep in mind that the number of public universities offering a four year degree has increased (the Penn State System is a good example of that) over time and that the number of private colleges closing or being acquired by other institutions have risen exponentially lately, especially if their enrollments fall under 1000. 

No wonder why we, college professors, are being asked to help position our institutions in order to assist administration to cope with such difficult circumstances. That’s difficult but not impossible. In fact, I’m, afraid that we haven’t tried something obvious, though.

BTW: I don’t have a complete solution for the enrollment problem that we are facing in higher education but I have a thought that could be argued to be the missing piece in this discussion of how to save our system of higher education in America.

I’m going to do my best to explain it to you. Here we go. In oder to differentiate one college from another, a college or university should do the following:

It should redesign courses and academic programs incorporating expertise from multiple professors in order to solve market problems through a multidisciplinary approach. Let me explain: Rather than offering a course in mathematics with a faculty member from the math department only… an institution of higher learning should create a math for communicators course, for example, incorporating concepts and examples from communication using mathematical principles to solve communication problems.

Another example would be to create a major in Data Engineering where professors of statistics in conjunction with others in engineering would then co-create the curriculum and co-teach all of these co-designed courses from a completely new and multidisciplinary perspective. As a caveat… It would be helpful to realign professor’s offices differently in order to make this plan work. I would argue that placing a professor of communication and a mathematician side-by-side (office location, I mean) would be an excellent idea to be implemented under this differentiated potential operational model of higher education. By placing a historian beside a chemist, colleges and universities could potentially start offering a course titled, “History of Atomic Structure In Western Civilization,”  

It is true that some institutions attempted to do the former but with little success. Majors like Sports Management, Education Psychology and many others have been developed with this intention in mind, I think. The reason they weren’t as innovative, in my opinion, was because these majors were primarily taught by faculty members of one academic unit. In addition, these faculty members who contributed to the development of these majors, didn’t have offices side by side with members from another department in order to keep building more multidisciplinary courses in the discipline.

There is one threat to my potential solution to the problem of differentiation in higher education. I admit… In a decade or less, more colleges and universities may adopt this way to differentiate, emulating the same organization that introduced this solution. The good news is that things change and a new idea can then be introduced ten years from now, I don’t know. Only time will tell, I guess.

Hypothetically speaking, of course…  

This potential way for a college or university to differentiate itself from others by redesigning courses and academic programs to incorporate expertise from multiple professors in order to solve market problems through a multidisciplinary approach, could be life changing. Is it the only way? Absolutely not. But, it is one way.

This is what I think. Do you have a better solution? Let’s chat.