Jun 22, 2011

Failure to Evolve

As we work with independent schools and colleges throughout the nation, we often have the opportunity to get a sense of the competitive environment in which they are operating. In fact, most of our strategic planning and positioning programs start with a heavy dose of research, and this research often includes a competitive or landscape analysis. The results of this research certainly informs our work on the project, but it also gives me pause as I consider the broader assumptions of what it tells me.

Much of our research leads me to a fundamental thesis about many schools and colleges today. From a programmatic standpoint, most colleges and schools are failing to evolve. They have failed to maintain an innovative bent in the delivery of their programs and instead, have primarily looked to improved marketing to drive their enrollment. Over the past decade, there has been a preoccupation with branding, messaging, and the development of marketing plans. These plans have been the Holy Grail of enrollment management and have been viewed by administration as the primary driver of net tuition revenue models. While I am certainly not suggesting that strategic marketing is not important – indeed it is – and many schools need to work harder to get that piece correct. But, strong marketing and excellent messaging will not overcome a mediocre academic program mired in the past.

Some of the critical touchstones that appear to be driving the more evolving and innovative education include:

The use of one-to-one technology as an effective teaching, learning, and research tool. Students possess the technology at home, so why not at school?

Differentiated learning environments acknowledging and embracing the fact that students learn differently. All of the research points to this – why have we failed to organize around this and build systems that support different learning styles?

A redefined classroom where students have access to a hands on and global learning environment is a critical need for the future. Why are we still valuing lecture style, content-delivered teaching by the sage on the stage as the primary driver of education delivery?

These are just some of the questions I ponder as we collectively look to the future of education. Marketing through solid promotional efforts may solve some tactical issues and get the word out about your brand, but keep in mind that the other “P’s” in marketing – product, price, and place – are where the true innovation opportunities. Apple is selling a lot of computers and phones lately. Why? They have great, innovative products, not merely because they run good ads.

As an industry, we need to do a better job innovating and differentiating our product among each other. Rather than merely looking to branding and messaging – which are important – innovation and differentiation of our program and how it is delivered is job one.