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    The StratEDgy blog is intended to be a thoughtful hub for discussion about strategy and competition in higher education.


What Are They Buying? What Are You Selling?

As Peter Drucker once said, “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.”  

May 30, 2012

As Peter Drucker once said, “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells him.”  

So what, exactly, do universities think they’re “selling?”  And what, exactly, do students think they’re “buying”? 

While thinking about these questions, I was struck by a chart from a Economix blog post (“Young, Educated and Seeking Financial Security”), which was based on a report from the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.  The Rutgers center conducted a survey with students and graduates of four-year colleges and universities and, interestingly, many of the life goals considered very important  or essential are similar and in relatively the same order of importance across the generations. 

Being financially secure ranks first across all generations, and having a job with impact ranks very high on the list, too.  Not much further down is having a prestigious career and being wealthy (much more important for the younger set).  If these are among their most important life goals, how are colleges and universities helping them get there?  Is this what colleges and universities are selling? 

So what, exactly, do students think they’re buying when they decide to attend a certain college or university?  Check all that apply:

  • An education
  • A signaling device for employers
  • An opportunity to explore new horizons
  • Educational content
  • Excellence in teaching, learning and research
  • Practical skills
  • Theoretical underpinnings and practical applications for today’s world
  • An understanding of how to “live a good life”
  • Employability
  • Investigate the biggest issues of our time
  • To open doors
  • Prepare for the real challenges that await in the workforce
  • Interact with faculty
  • Understanding of the human condition
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Four (to six) years of fun
  • A nurturing environment in which to grow
  • A credential
  • Access to the best minds in their field
  • The chance to rub elbows with future captains of industry
  • The chance to take classes with current and future Nobel laureates
  • Vocational skills
  • A network for life
  • A love of learning
  • Economic stability
  • A rigorous academic experience
  • A maturation experience
  • An opportunity to explore life in a relatively safe, relaxed setting
  • Research (and relevance)
  • Action learning
  • An opportunity to learn as much outside the classroom as inside the classroom
  • A ticket to a better life
  • Other (please specify): _________________________________

Quick:  Where’s the overlap between what universities are selling and what students and their parents are buying?  And how does your product/service compare to what other schools offer or?  What is their return-on-investment (of time, effort, money) for your “product” compared to what other schools and “substitute products/services” (e.g., on-the-job training, joining the military, starting a business) offer for a similar/lesser investment?


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