We know what you’re thinking, another proclamation to having the answer to the $1,000,000 question. But read on.
It’s actually unfortunate in my opinion that Nancy Mann Jackson chose this particular title for this excellent eBook. The idea that families are conducting “cost-benefit analyses or her reference in the introduction to the “higher education industry” may put off even the most business-minded Higher Ed administrators. And that would be a shame, as she taps into a varied and articulate group of administrators to make some very salient points on a topic that is on the minds of many in higher education: What is our unique value proposition?
The pressures driving the need for such a reassessment are clear - rising costs, increased student debt, the demand for accountability, decreased state funding and the advent of for profit and online education - offering more choices and driving fierce competition for students.
Redefine and Rediscover
Soul-searching means asking questions.
- What does your institution do well?
- What type of students do you want to attract?
- Do you specialize in a particular field like Babson College who has a reputation for creating future entrepreneurs, or MIT with its focus on science and engineering?
Maybe your school has taken a more philosophic approach like Reed College where students focus strictly on academics, making the absence of varsity athletics, fraternities and sororities a plus. Covering a lot of ground in just a few short pages, Mann Jackson emphasizes focus, and the inclusion of all stakeholders in defining value. Questions are important. As you move through these short chapters it becomes clear that simply asking why your college costs so much doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.
In describing a community college education, Matt Miller, VP of Student and Community Relations at Mid Michigan Community College makes what seems to an obvious statement. “As costs rise across the board for a college education, community college offers a student the opportunity to enter the workforce through a two-year degree or take the first two years of their college coursework and then transfer to the University of their choice having saved thousands of dollars in the process.” In the context of this article the very nature of the community college sounds radical and new, feeling more like a defining mission statement or, though far too long, a tagline, certainly something the public can clearly understand.
Other insights abound. Kevin Myers, Director of Communications at Reed College on the effects of ranking: “Rankings are trying to homogenize the system… rather than valuing the unique experiences different colleges can provide for the right students.” Hasn’t college always been about a unique experience? Again, in the context of value proposition, it becomes a rediscovery of purpose.
With “value” as the operative word, Mann Jackson asserts, “For parents and students, tuition dollars (and likely student debt) may not be worth spending four years in LEED-certified buildings, or working out in fancy student recreational complexes, or even studying under big-name professors. But the money is likely worth an opportunity to achieve career goals, develop student potential, and have a better life. Those are the types of values your must focus on expressing.”
Use Data, Tell Stories
There is great advice here and excellent testimonies - including a detailed look at how Babson College used its brand-building exercise to build its brand around the world - and how to effectively communicate your unique value proposition once you’ve identified it. See how focusing on outcomes, using the right channel to reach the right audience and using “stories” to do so, will highlight your institution’s unique offering.
Over the last 50 years the drive to apply business best practices to government and education has raised concern that such tactics shift the focus from people to profit and threaten to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. As Kevin Myers, Director of Communications at Reed College put it so eloquently, “There is no straight formula for money in and money out. It’s not a ticket to a Certain Job. Education affects every aspect of your life, not just your ability to make money.” Mann Jackson makes this point, and then some, in this thought provoking eBook.
To read the complete eBook “How to Develop Your Unique Value Proposition” click here: