As I was driving home yesterday, I heard a radio ad on a local station (I’m in Winnipeg) promoting University of Phoenix. Surprised me. I did not realize that they are that progressive in extending their reach. I’ve seen their ads in newspapers, magazines, and websites…so I’m not sure why it was a bit of a jolt. Perhaps I see radio as being a more local media. Regardless, U of Phoenix is in everyone’s backyard. Until recently, higher education/training gained much of their strength geographically. Students in your area were your captive market. The product being sold was a “course” and credentials. Now, any online school has the ability to reach into any market. All of the courses listed in the U of Phoenix ad are offered by my employer Red River College.
U of Phoenix will always “out course” university and college courses. They’re organized, have production-line efficiency, hire staff on an as-needed, program basis (resulting in reduced costs associated with tenure/unions), have a business model, have developed a recognized brand name, etc. Colleges and universities cannot compete against corporation-style education (look at some of the high profile failures over the last two years – Fathom, NYUOnline). The higher education model is not based on marketing and business metrics (yet).
If we can’t build a better course, how can we compete? Stop thinking courses…start thinking communities, learning, accreditation, evaluation of prior learning…shift the focus from content to services. If higher education attempts to play the “commercializing education” game, we will lose before starting. Compete on our strengths, not theirs. Public education certainly has a strong future…but not within our current viewpoints of the services we provide (content) and what a learning model we use (courses) to deliver it.