Friday, August 9, 2013

Competing with For-Profits in Attracting Businesses

Has anyone seen the latest University of Phoenix (UoP) commercials?  What is the message?  Get an education at UoP - our graduates are executives in business and we have business partners to help you get to where you want to be…  And colleges like Strayer University, Grand Canyon University are now listed in INC as one of the top 50 companies.
A major trend in Higher Education enrollments for the past decade has been the number of adults greater than age 25 and older seeking an education.  It could be finishing their degree through employer tuition aid, upgrading their professional skills to be more attractable to their company, changing careers, or reestablishing a post-military career.  As people are positioning themselves for success – and corporate executives agree – education is the key that opens the door to work that’s meaningful, financially rewarding and in demand.  There is every indication that this trend will continue, but with who?

Most segments of higher education are competing for these students and one way is to strategically establish business relationships.  For profits such as the above are increasingly developing these relationships and are dominating the market as a result of innovative approaches to learning and their significantly larger promotional budgets.  Here a few strategies not-for-profit and public institutions can adopt to help level the playing field.

1.     Know Your Strengths and Recognize Your WeaknessesStrengths:  All colleges and universities pride themselves on developing traditional academic programs, curriculum and teaching for the 18-21 year old.  Public Institutions and community colleges need to apply this strength into workforce training; working with businesses that need these best practices to customize their needs into educational solutions for their employees.  Additionally, professional certificates in business, healthcare and IT technology areas already have been developed and in many cases have become the mainstays of these institutions.  Weaknesses:  First, all colleges and universities need to work hard in counseling students and assisting students who are having difficulty in completing their programs. Second, public institutions and community colleges need to market and attract businesses through a data driven-results approach - following up with businesses on new trends in education and promoting successful programs that have led to employment are essential in establishing and maintaining integrity and credibility in the businessworld.  You can accomplish this by developing an interactive student support service, a marketing promotional strategy and a business outreach plan.  Marketing strategies can be following up with successful alumni, telling success stories and advertising the success of a particular individual or business partner on your brochures, website, podcast, blog and social media campaigns. You might even consider outsourcing these functions to a professional, trusted and valued partner on a contractual basis,  

2.     Changing Demographics - The new generational mix, active adult lifestyles and corporate globalization will be a critical factor when choosing a college or university academic degree or professional certificate programs.  For-profits have done remarkably well in the past decade to accommodate these demographics, especially though online learning.  Public institutions and community colleges will need to invest in, develop and build their technology infrastructure, student support services and inbound marketing in order to compete with for-profits for students and corporate executives interested in their degree and certificate programs, philantrophy, career fairs, employer sponsorships, etc.. 

3.     Engagement - Lastly, the most important program strategy for any college and university is to get students and business involved.  Colleges and universities, similar to UoP, need to demonstrate that their academic and certificate programs meet the needs of businesses which will in turn positively impact the industries they serve.  This helps to connect the student to the college to the business.  
Given the number of options that adult students and businesses have when selecting a college or university, public institutions and community colleges must go above and beyond to ensure students and businesses understand exactly the advantages the provide  (see The Learning Strategy’s 15 Reasons Why Community Colleges Should be Your Business Training Resource). 

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