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The "Go Big" Strategy for Colleges and Universities

Colleges Are Still Selling Unbridled Optimism Today, Rather Than the “College Experience.” Here Are Ideas on How They Must Change to Survive and Thrive - Quickly!

By David WyldPublished 3 months ago Updated 3 months ago 31 min read
The "Go Big" Strategy for Colleges and Universities
Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

College is more and more perceived as the pathway to a good career, even at a time when this pathway is being challenged on every front in a fast-transforming world in which institutions have struggled to keep up with the pace of change. Can colleges and universities change the way they market themselves to - and serve - a changing customer base with changing needs and wants out of the “college experience,” and if not, what does the future hold for the higher education industry? In this article, the author, himself a college professor and management consultant, offers his perspective on how colleges and universities must change in order to provide meaningful - and yes, customer-pleasing - experiences to be able to survive - and thrive - into the future.

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Now, I'm a college professor. And yes, we can get a baaaaaaaad rap these days. Now, as with any profession, we do have our bad apples - I'll readily admit that. There are professors who do go too far politically in the classroom and do come very close to the "i" word - indoctrination. There are professors who are too loose with their morals and use their power - or what they perceive as their power - to coerce and sexually harass their students. And yes, we do have a few folks in our profession who are psychotics, sociopaths, and even criminals! But for the most part, and in a way that would pleasantly shock both students, parents, and the taxpayers that fund, in one way or another, much of the higher education industrial complex, my fellow college faculty are a surprisingly hard-working bunch! And no, we don’t just work the 3, 6, 9, or 12 (or 15 or 18 or 21) hours that we teach in the classroom. Let’s just say between teaching, research, and yes, service, there’s a lot of “sausage making” that goes into the “magic” - or at least what really happens - in the college classroom today!

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Now, also being a strategic management professor and a consultant, I have watched - more than a little anxiously, since higher education is my business, as the basic sales proposition of the “college experience” has been breaking down, especially over the past decade. Higher ed, in short, is in the maturity to decline cycle of its product life cycle. Its product offering is a little stale. It’s not keeping up with the wants - both real needs and felt needs - of its customers and its various constituencies. It’s a little - to a lot - overpriced. And yes, it is overall a little lost as an industry - and make no mistake, higher education is an industry, offering a service, that needs a value proposition that customers want to buy. And today, that value proposition is becoming vague - and stale - in a fast-paced, fast-changing and complex world.

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While maybe not always explicitly - but sometimes, very, very explicitly - the implicit proposition of college (the “deal”, if you will) has been this: College is a tradeoff of you spending 4 (or 5 or 6 or even more years these days) - and you (and your parents, and yes, the government) spending a great deal of money, one way or another, doing it, all with the lure at the end of a “big prize” - that being a good job and the pathway to a good career.

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My colleagues in the liberal arts and the creative fields still get easily riled up about the fact that too many of their students are not in school for a “love of learning” or a “desire to expand their minds and their perspectives,” but rather, as a means to an end. And even in the halls of colleges of business, like my own, my colleagues see students more and more looking at their professors, their classes, and even their entire time in college as a transactional experience (I pay you for the service of a class,, you give me a grade in return - with the emphasis too often on “give!”), and if it ends up being a learning experience, that’s only a bonus! The simple truth is that across all fields of study today, from accounting to zoology, the college experience has become over time - and is still - at least popularly perceived by the customers of higher ed, namely the students and increasingly their parents (the payors in many to most cases) - a ticket that student believes that he or she simply needs to punch in order to get into one’s desired job and on the path to a successful career.

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College is more and more perceived as the pathway to a good career, even at a time when this pathway is being challenged on every front in a fast-transforming world in which institutions have struggled to keep up with the pace of change. In this article, we will examine evidence of just how strong this perception - this belief if you will - is still today. And we examine what should be a big, almost existential question for everyone in higher ed: This is whether - and should - colleges and universities change the way they market themselves to a changing customer base with changing needs and wants out of the “college experience,” and if not, what does the future hold for the higher education industry? And at the end of the article, we will look at how colleges and universities can survive - and thrive - in a world of high competition and high expectations - by creating new and better college experiences for their students (a.k.a. their customers).

By Aneta Pawlik on Unsplash

Exhibit “A” of the Strong Belief in Higher Ed’s “Golden Ticket”

Want to see Exhibit A that the higher education industry is still very good at selling the idea to its consumers that you need to buy its services as a way - the only way - to get to your desired status in life? While I was “working” and “doing research” on my social media feeds the other day, I ran across this item:


This question was posed by an Instagram user, girlsmeettheinternet. The woman (yes, it’s late 2023, so it could also be a guy, located anywhere from the University of Washington to Washington, DC and from Rutgers to Russia) reposted a tweet (or whatever we are calling those posts on Twitter [X] these days) originally made by @alexuslemasters, who identifies herself as Lexi from North Carolina. As you can see in the post, Lexi overheard a conversation going on in class, yes, likely while the professor was delivering his or her highly crafted, well-thought-out, days and decades in the making lecture on whatever the topic du jour was for that day.

Everyone that I have shown this tweet/Instagram post to has the same reaction. First, they laugh. Then, they shake their heads and say something to the effect of, “Man, does she have a LOT to learn!” And in making that particular reference, they weren’t talking about biology or business, political science or the supply chain, or even forensic accounting or the “Four P’s of Marketing.” Rather, whether it is a student or a colleague or even a friend beyond the four walls of the ivory tower complex (tough to be in an ivory tower though when you work in a one-story building!), to a person, everyone who sees this, whether the context is when I present this in class as I have recently as a point of discussion or just comments made to me personally because I have a copy of this post on my office door, all agree on a basic interpretation of the young woman’s view of college: “What is she thinking today?”

By Robert Linder on Unsplash

Well, I would argue that what she is merely thinking is what she has been “sold.” It is what colleges and universities still market today, even as the basic proposition of a college education and a degree leading to a successful career has broken down - big time! The college-to-career success train is what parents and grandparents still largely believe in and try to impart to their children and grandchildren in their formative years. And they do so out of love, precisely because that is the way things largely worked when they went off to college in the 1950s or 60s, or even as late as the 80s, 90s, and the early 2000s. And yes, everyone who is a teacher, everyone who is a nurse, everyone who is an accountant, and yes, everyone who is a doctor (a “real” medical doctor or us professors)… basically anyone with a profession where the college degree has been the foundational piece, the college experience has been the gatekeeping mechanism to that career - at least traditionally (yes, more and more, you can become a K-12 teacher without a degree through alternative certification paths and even temporary authorizations to teach).

By Xin on Unsplash

The Breakdown of the “College to Career Success” Ladder

However, that critical linkage is breaking down today - fast! More and more, young people - and their parents - are questioning the assumption - the belief structure - that has driven the higher education industrial complex through a period of astonishing growth - and wealth - over the past 4, 5, 6 decades. Today, they are seeing young people succeed in their careers without completing four years of college, or without even going to college, Yes, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg both dropped out of Harvard to start their businesses, and they did pretty darn good for themselves - and have made a distinct and lasting impact on the world!

By Zhanhui Li on Unsplash

But on the non-billionaire level plane that 99.9% of us exist in, everywhere around us, young people are succeeding in building successful careers - and yes, wealth, without the debt that more and more correlates with the college experience! We see young people that we know personally, and - thanks to social media and actually (still) really talking to people - we know many families (neighbors, coworkers, former classmates, church and other social group members, etc,) whose children are flourishing in their late teens and early twenties after leaving college early and/or without going to college at all!

By Razvan Chisu on Unsplash

The plain truth of the matter is that more and more high school graduates - or even non-graduates - are finding their paths to success in life without the college experience - full stop! Each and every day, more and more young men and women are creating a fine future for themselves - career-wise, money-wise, and lifestyle-wise - bypassing universities, either partially (deciding to not return to college for their degree at some point in the process) or fully (never setting foot on a college campus)! They are increasingly seeing “alternative paths” to career and life success:

By Jake Melara on Unsplash

We even see intense interest in young people taking “gap years” - or really, for some, years - after high school, giving themselves a chance to travel, to pursue their passions, and yes, even work for a while full-time so that they can go to college without incurring as much debt as they see their contemporaries taking on - and being saddled with for their futures!

By Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The bottom-line is that more and more, high school students are seeing alternatives for their life paths other than hopping on the college-to-job-to-career straight path express! And so more and more of them are simply not going to college - at least directly after their high school graduations. And with every single 17, 18, 19.. year-old who doesn’t join the rush to spend 4, 5, 6 or more of their formative years at one (or more) of the many, many outlets of the higher education industrial complex near them, this only contributes to the demographic problem - really a demographic crisis - that the higher education industry has, in fact, anticipated for quite some time, but is here today: There just aren’t enough young people to sustain the higher ed machine - as it is presently constructed and marketed - anymore!

As you can see in Figure 1 (Total Number of High School Graduates Annually in the U.S, 1992-2037), the supply of ready high school grads as “prospects” to fuel the higher education pipeline in America has been on the rise going back to the 1990’s - and in truth, all the way back to the end of World War II (they don’t call them Baby Boomers for no reason!). But today, that number is stagnating - and about to take a precipitous fall for at least a decade and more to come! This is what is known in higher ed circles today as the “Enrollment Cliff,” as entering college freshmen will fall from 2025 forward as birth rates in the U.S. have not recovered from the effects of the Great Recession, starting in 2008. The future high school-to-college pipeline is going to have less than the almost 4 million annual high school graduates that we see at present. In fact, the number of high school graduates in 2037 is projected to be what it was in 2012 - right at 3.5 million! This will represent an actual decline of almost half a million high school grads - the traditional “target market” that has fueled the higher education machine for decades! From about - checks watch - right now, this means that all institutions will have to deal with a declining student market for the first time in all of our lifetimes (well, except for that ancient fossil of a professor over in archaeology!).

Figure 1: Total Number of High School Graduates Annually in the U.S, 1992-2037

Source: Cognia, “High School Graduation Trends in the Years Ahead,” 2021 (Used with permission).

Without getting into a testy political and/or social discussion here, the plain demographic facts are that there simply aren’t as many new Americans being born today - a trend that has, in fact, been ongoing for over two decades. And despite some recent political developments (the crackdown on women’s reproductive rights), this trend really shows no sign of abating - much less reversing! Political factors have already become a major factor in students’ decisions - or non-decisions -to attend universities in “Red States” across the South, fearing a more hostile campus environment and with female students - and their families - particularly worried about the availability of reproductive health care in those areas. The controversy this year (2023) over the “hostile takeover” by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of the New College of Florida stands as evidence - to many observers - of what is likely to come in universities across the South as political acrimony more and more hits the academy.

By Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash

And lest you think that an influx of foreign students could counter the demographic and now politically-influenced “demand problems” domestically facing American higher education, well, the data show otherwise. As you can see in Figure 2 (International Students Studying at American Institutions of Higher Education, 1962-2022/23) below, in just released (November 2023) data from the Institute of International Education (IIE) the number of students from abroad actually did increase in the just concluded academic year (2022-2023). Once again, after dipping below this mark in 2020 due to the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising international hostilities, today, well over one million foreign students are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at institutions across the United States.

Figure 2: International Students Studying at American Institutions of Higher Education, 1962-2022/23

Source: Institute of International Education, IIE Open Doors 2023 Annual Data Release: International Students, November 2023 (Used with permission).

Today, according to the Open Doors 2023 report, 1,057,188 international students from more than 210 places of origin pursued their studies in the 2022-2023 academic year. According to the CEO of the Institute of International Education, Allan E. Goodman: “Over one million international students studying in the U.S. reflects a strong rebound, with the number approaching pre-pandemic levels. This reinforces that the U.S. remains the destination of choice for international students wishing to study abroad, as it has been for more than a century.” This is true, and the 12% year-over-year growth rate in foreign students studying here in America does represent an “almost” return to pre-pandemic “normal” levels of international students at U.S. universities. However, one cannot help but look at this chart - and knowing the tension and fragility of global relations today, especially between the U.S. and China and the Middle East, and say that it is unlikely that there will be anything approaching the phenomenal growth in international students that was seen in the 50+ years leading up to 2020 in the near or even distant future!

By Alexander Grey on Unsplash

So, unless there was to be a sudden, unexpected influx of more - many more - foreign students into the pipeline for American higher education, colleges and universities across the country are going to have a hard time sustaining their current enrollments - and with that, their budgets, their student services, and yes, most concerning to one who gets his monthly paycheck from a university, their faculty and staff. The buzzword - literally the buzzsaw - today across higher education is cuts - and then more budget and staff cuts. Universities - particularly small private colleges - are even closing their doors at a record rate.

So, clearly, something has to change. But the higher ed game is notoriously and historically slow to change! Not just slow in the way institutions evolve, but glacial in the pace of change - unless the change is externally forced upon them! This is a time when slow, gradual change will work. Rather, as the great philosopher Matt Damon put it in a now-famous commercial for - checks notes - cryptocurrency (maybe not the best example, eh?), but he said: “Fortune favors the brave.” And yes, in the end when talking about organizations needing massive changes in their strategies, it really does!

By Isaac Smith on Unsplash


So, if you are sitting in one of the hundreds of big - typically really big - and well-appointed offices that university presidents and chancellors have these days and you are the consultant called in to help him or her “fix” things, what do you recommend at this critical time for universities, when students are harder to come by and retain, costs are increasing faster than revenue (tuition and fees), and oh yes, your product - a college diploma - just isn’t viewed the same as it once was, as is the case with the entire college experience?

By Randy Tarampi on Unsplash

Here’s what I, as a retail-level consultant who normally deals in very practical solutions, would now recommend as the course to take for any institution that wants to survive - let alone thrive - in this brave new world of higher ed. No doubt, this is a non-practical suggestion that I, as both an experienced advice giver and, first and foremost, a member of the academy, truly believe is the only real solution to the very real crisis that almost all higher education institutions in the United States face today: Go big! In fact, go very big!

Speaking again not for my unnamed university in the Southeastern United States (well, it’s a mystery, unless you look at my brief bio at the end of this article!), I believe that today all colleges and universities in the United States - from the smallest private schools to the largest state schools whose brands are almost ubiquitous today, perhaps more for their presence on ESPN than for their academic prowess - face what is nothing less than an existential crisis! If not today, as is the case for many smaller private colleges and for - no offense - third or fourth-tier state universities (yes, those who are not on ESPN and are not on the radars of prospective students and state legislators!), these crises will come about in the next five to ten years as the demographic trends really hit everyone in the higher education industrial complex. No institution will be spared - nope, not even Alabama (sorry, Nick Saban!)! As a consequence, the time has come to go very big with a strategic response, not merely “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” as has been the case to date across the higher ed landscape!

By Robert Linder on Unsplash

What do I mean by going very big? What I mean is this. To date, many universities have dipped their toes in a “go very big” strategy, but have not fully embraced it. I would say no one institution has gone more than 25%, and none have made the radical changes that such a strategy should - and really must - entail. The two elements of the “go very big strategy” - which I will hold are “ambience” and “relevance” - have been in place for years at many, if not most, institutions of higher learning. I mean, what university today doesn’t seem to have a food court in its student union and/or a rock climbing wall in its student fitness center? What college hasn’t at least looked - or in higher ed lingo, at least started a review - even if that was initiated a decade ago and is still ongoing, at revamping its curriculum to be more “in line with the times” and “meeting the needs of today’s learners” and “training students for the next generation of jobs?”

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The problem is that leaders of these institutions - and yes, the faculty within the four walls of the ivory tower - are a conservative lot (at least when it comes to making decisions), not the wild-eyed “woke” libtards that we in the academy are too often painted as with broad brushstrokes! We like our present jobs. We like our salaries (for the most part, hey, it’s a nine-month gig!). We like our working environment. And we like working with young people. So, it is not the kind of environment that generally fosters radical shifts in strategy, and yet, this is exactly what this moment entails for all in higher education - especially the college presidents and chancellors who have the nicest offices, big “company” homes, and yes, often high 6 or even 7 figure salaries and total compensation packages! It is tough when you have those kinds of chips to push “all in” on the strategic poker table, but today, that is exactly what every institution in the higher ed industry needs to be doing - right now - to be prepared to survive and perhaps even thrive in what will be a very changed playing field for colleges and universities in just a relatively short time frame.

By Fernando Santander on Unsplash

As I said previously, the twin pillars of the “go very big strategy” are ambience and relevancy. Most would say that the latter - providing educational and formative experiences that help prepare young people for the future - is actually the most important one, far and away. I mean, why wouldn't providing a relevant educational experience be far more important than the setting, surroundings, and conditions in which it is experienced? Well, that is where ambience comes in, as I believe that having a place in which to live and gain these educational and formative experiences will become a qualifier for colleges and universities to compete in order to provide relevant education! Without a nice enough “place,” simply put, students - and their tuition dollars - simply won’t be coming to your institution!

By Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

From a strategic viewpoint, these two seemingly unrelated concepts are, in fact, very closely linked and interdepedent. And if colleges and universities fail to realize this, their efforts to create a new kind of college education experience will fail - full stop! Now, both of these topics are worth many, many articles and in-depth research on the search for better relevance and the provision of better ambience for college students - and what will be the undisputable linkage between the two (even as hard as it may be for some of higher education’s constituencies and critics to understand and appreciate the connection between lazy rivers and chocolate fountains with delivering the kind of education that will truly prepare today’s - and tomorrow’s students for the world that will face them for the next 50-60-70 or more years of their lives and careers!). I do hope that not just my colleagues across the higher education landscape, from all fields, will weigh in on this subject from their own perspectives, but consulting firms (and not just the “usual suspects” who currently serve the higher education community) and both independent researchers and government/interest groups engage in real-time research in this area as to what is “working” and what is “not working” when it comes to the change processes that all colleges and universities are going to need to undertake in the years to come.

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So, let’s talk relevance first. What is a relevant college experience going to need to look like in 5-10 years for a university to be able to survive - and maybe even thrive - in this brave new world of higher education? Now I am going to say some things here that could be labelled as heresy and blasphemy in many corridors of the ivory tower today. However, these are changes that I would recommend so as to make the college experience not just more relevant for students, but to also make it possible for institutions to more clearly demonstrate what is today - and will be even more so tomorrow - the all-important linkage (in an era where assessment and metrics are key) between a student’s learning experiences and their ultimate career success!

By Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Here’s just a few bullet-pointed recommendations in this regard, each of which could be the subject of much discussion, much research, and yes, much experimentation in the years ahead:

  • Colleges and universities need to change their mindset from being rigid in terms of curriculum and courses, focused on process, rather than being focused on successful student outcomes. We need to focus more on developing the whole person, rather than on specific assignments, tests, and even classes. As such, curriculums need to change to keep pace with the times and be continually revisited to ensure that what we are requiring students to take is relevant and valuable for today’s students. And yes, this may mean radical changes in terms of traditional college courses, from English to history to math and the sciences. That does not mean teaching less. Rather, the curriculum simply has to change - full stop! We need to deemphasize - or, you’d better sit if you are in the liberal arts - more practical education, empahasizing things like life and social skills, mental and physical health, and personal financial management and planning, etc.
  • We need to wake up - and wake up fast - to the fact that today, almost all of college work can be done with technology! Now, whether that is cheating or not is dependent on your perspective, your ethics, and often, your age. However, the stark reality is that the answers to almost any test question, any essay prompt, any research question, any math equation, etc. are available at your fingertips within seconds! Artificial intelligence and the rise of ChatGPT and other AI aids is only accelerating the process to where it will be practically impossible to tell “real” student work from computer-generated responses - and guess which will be “right?”
  • We need to recognize that experiences do matter as much, or even more, than formalized learning activities to students and are perhaps even more important in their personal development. Students are today increasingly looking for extracurricular activities that help build their character and their resume. Study abroad and “study away” (think study abroad, but domestically within the U.S.) opportunities are now highly desired by students and parents. Likewise, the opportunity to engage in meaningful service activities helps this character/resume building in a major way. Finally, internships with companies, non-profits, governmental agencies, etc. are becoming an almost expectation, both from the student view and for employers, as this kind of practical workforce experience is highly valued today.
  • Finally, we need to step back and be willing to take a look at things not from an expert perspective, but from that of an 18 or 19-year-old making a choice as to whether to go to college at all (as opposed to other choices that they have post-high school) and if so, where to invest their time and money to get their degree. The noted management guru, Tom Peters, once said that the hardest thing for an expert to do is “to learn to listen naively!” In short, we in the higher ed game need to learn to listen better - and naively - to what our students, their parents, and what future employers want from our institutions and our offerings to make what we offer much more relevant - both now and especially for the future!
By Gabrielle Henderson on Unsplash

And then, we have to talk about ambience. We have to talk about ambience because no matter how relevant, how great, how desirable, how valuable, and yes, how “marketable” an institution’s educational experiences may be, if a college or university - or even units within the overall enterprise, let’s just say the College of Business or the College of Nursing, for instance - do not provide the right surroundings, the right environment for today’s - and tomorrow’s - college students to have “the college experience,” they simply won’t be there for it! And so while yes, there has been intense criticism of many institutions for their lavish spending on things like lazy rivers, rock-climbing walls, 4 and 5-star luxury hotel-like dorms, and food offerings that would top even Wolfgang Puck in terms of quality and variety, today’s students are looking at these amenities more and more as necessities. And if you can’t, don’t, or simply won’t get with the program and step up the game in terms of not just where students sleep and eat (and more), but where they spend their days and their educational time, your institution simply won’t be able to survive in this new competitive environment.

By Cassandra Hamer on Unsplash

So, here are just a few of the major recommendations that I would have for colleges and universities across the land. And as with the ideas on relevance, each of these can - and likely should - generate a lot of discussion and research into just how important these concepts will be for building - or rather, in most instances, renovating and recharging, a university for the future:

  • Living spaces and learning spaces that look more like America in the 1950’s and the former Soviet Union in the 1980’s must be demolished - or at the minimum, majorly renovated - today (well, yesterday, really)! In their place, living and learning spaces must be crafted that are in line with the open offices and gathering spaces that characterize the best of corporate America today or of the “WeWork-type” environment of flexible, temporary officing for remote and partially remote workers! To cite just a few examples, communal bathrooms in dorms - gone! Shared bedrooms out, private bedrooms in! And in regards to learning spaces, colleges should create/remodel to have many more “gathering” and “work” spaces over formal classrooms, whether that be for 3-5 people or for 10, 20, or 30 people to get together and work/collaborate. And oh yes, the lecture hall with 300, 500, or 1,000 seats, well, as President Ronald Reagan so famously put it:
  • For decades now, colleges and universities have implicitly competed based on their offerings to students in terms of the food and activities each offers on campus. What college administrators are coming to realize is that in the minds of students - and parents - amenities do matter! And so we can expect more - and better - food and beverage offerings on campus, especially as major, experienced third-party providers such as Aramark and Sodexo are now increasingly being brought in to manage and operate university food service operations. Further, we can expect an even further escalation of the amenity war when it comes to competition between schools in terms of who can offer better workout and leisure facilities. Think LSU’s “lazy river” was excessive as part of an $85 million upgrade of leisure facilities on campus? You may not have seen anything yet as colleges and universities will have to go to extremes to make their features and facilities stand out from the crowd!
  • Every college needs to have systems that work seamlessly - 99.9% of the time - from a student (customer) perspective - and it truly should be viewed as the customer’s perspective! Students need to be able to navigate - whether online, on the phone, or in person - the college’s systems and offices seamlessly for whatever issues/wants/problems they might have 24/7/365. Colleges should strive to make certain - or at least as certain as humanly and technically possible today - that each interaction, each transaction, each touchpoint that a student might have with it is as short and pleasant as possible. And to reinforce this, colleges and universities should have designated personnel readily available for - and easily accessible by - students to help them with whatever problems/issues/concerns that they might be having with any area of the university - a student concierge if you will who can help them navigate what are all too often complex waters.
  • Even for more traditional universities, online is becoming everything - both in terms of instruction and in terms of student activities/engagement. Students come to campus expecting WiFi and connectivity that is seamless and powerful, mirroring por exceeeding what they have in their parents’ home and in other settings. So, a university must - at a baseline - offer strong and robust connectivity to its students, enabling them not just to do their schoolwork, but to pursue all of their vocational, social, and aspirational pursuits. No longer does the number of volumes held in a university’s library matter at all to prospective students and/or their families. Rather, what matters more is easy, fast, and reliable Internet access - as the Web is now the gateway to everyone’s world.
  • Finally, sports are becoming more and more central to not just the university’s identity, but the student’s identity with the university, both while they are active students at the university and when they become alumni of the university. And while some may decry the excesses of “big- time college athletics,” today, almost every university outside of the Ivy League (think Harvard, Yale, Columbia, etc.) draws more and more of their public image not from their faculty’s research being published or their students being successful, but rather, from how much they are featured in the sports news and on ESPN! And while the old metrics (like faculty credentials and student achievements) still count for colleges and universities for funding and for accreditation, the principal “success metric” that identifies colleges and universities in the mind of the public is increasingly whether your school is in the College Football Playoff or if it made the NCAA basketball tournaments for men and for women. For good or for bad, athletic success is today fast becoming a substitute for academic success for colleges and universities. And beyond that, by and large, students want to have athletic events and excitement be a part of their college experience, and so investments in athletic programs - and success on the field, court, diamond, course, etc., pay dividends in terms of enhancing the overall feel of the college experience for students in a positive way.
By MD Duran on Unsplash


This is really just an attempt at scratching the surface as to what the university of the future must become to compete for the students of the future. It is this author’s hope that others, both inside and outside of the academy, will join in the conversation. After all, it’s just the future of higher ed at stake - nothing big! However, the closer any college or university can grow to become an institution that can indeed make that young girl’s dream of graduating in 4 years to her dream job - and with significantly added value from her college experience there at the university, the more successful that school will be and the more likely it will be to survive to 2050, 2100 and beyond!


About David Wyld

David C. Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at You can subscribe to his Medium article feed at:

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David Wyld

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  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    Loved this article!!! Agree with your argument and your recommended solutions!!!❤️❤️💕

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