I saw this ad and it made me want to go to the University of Phoenix and get an MBA. No kidding. In public higher education we’ve admitted for a while that the for-profits have us beat on student service — they do.
For the sake of argument, let’s set aside last June’s disturbing revelations about financial aid and student indebtedness. I think there’s no question that nearly unlimited public guarantees of student loans led to abuses, similar to those that sank the mortgage industry and pulled the rest of us down with it. Set aside too the fishy incentives to recruiters, and an oddly top-down approach to curriculum.
What’s left is a student-service orientation that we could learn from, and — I think less often recognized — a canny use of marketing that adds perceived value to the degree.
We in the publics toss off our degrees like they’re bagels. We’ve done such a good job of promoting access and welcome that we convinced our students and often ourselves that what we offer is unremarkable. Do it now, or do it later, when you can get around to it. Come in fully prepared and ready to work hard from day one, or don’t. Go out and change the world. Or not. We’ll welcome you either way.
Somehow we need to keep low the barriers to entry, but encourage high aspiration, and a sense of specialness to those who get in — so we’ll present college as purposeful, valuable, and worth seeing all the way through. The way this ad does.