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Starbucks, EDUCAUSE, and Higher Ed
October 17, 2013 - 9:00pm

Time once again to share our big takeaways from EDUCAUSE.

What is your gut reaction to our shared experience in Anaheim?

Maybe Casey Green and his 2013 Campus Computing Survey has taken up residence in your consciousness. (You have not gone to EDUCAUSE until you have experienced Casey presenting his survey results).

Or perhaps you (like me) go lost on the exhibitors (vendor) floor, disoriented while walking each aisle in an unsuccessful attempt to find the exit.   

My EDUCAUSE story for this (quiet) 2013 coalesced outside of any session, outside of any vendor booth.

My story starts at Starbucks.

Every morning at 7:45 a.m. I'd walk past the Starbucks in the Hilton lobby as I made my way the few feet to the convention center. Each morning the line at the Starbucks has been out the door and down the hall. A big group of EDUCAUSE badge wearing edtech professionals patiently waiting for their white chocolate mochas and hazelnut macchiatos.  

The reasons why EDUCAUSE attendees will wait in line for 30 minutes for a Starbucks beverage when free coffee is available a few feet away in the Convention Center might hold a few lessons for higher ed.

1. The Power of Branding:

Would there be a line out the door for a cafe serving lattes and espressos for a store other than Starbucks?  A couple of hundred feed away there is a cafe outside the exhibit hall that will make you nice cappuccino. Hardly any line.  The catch. This cafe is some no name Anaheim Convention Center owned coffee shop. Not a branded experience.

The higher ed lesson here is of course that brands matter. They matter a great deal. What I think that educational technology can do is to help schools without a known brand to become well-known in a specific area. What is it that your college or university does better than anyone else? This area of excellence can be leveraged into online or blended degree programs with an international reach.  

Higher ed brands can be built one program at a time. Growing brand equity will be the best insurance against new competitors and economic downturns. Are you focusing on what you do really well?

2. The Allure of Customization:

People are complicated. We want our coffee drinks made exactly how we want them. A double shot with skim milk and a squirt of vanilla. We will wait longer and pay more for an experience that matches our preferences and our needs.

One of the reasons why higher education is expensive is that higher education is flexible. Individual students can choose their own paths, take courses outside of their majors, explore other disciplines.  We could make higher education cheaper, and probably lower attrition and reduce time-to-degree, if we eliminated all this flexibility. A less customized education experience will be less expensive, but also less appealing.  

Perhaps we should not be so quick to run away from the idea that an education experience should be customized by each learner. Flexibility appears nowhere in the discussions of the iron triangle of costs, quality and access. Maybe we need a fourth dimension.

3. The Value of Quality

The EDUCAUSE attendees standing in the Starbucks line are not acting irrationally. They are choosing to trade time and money for quality. Given a choice of free and fast coffee at the convention center and slow and expensive coffee at Starbucks at least some of these coffee drinkers are choosing Starbucks.

The fact is that a Starbucks beverage is a better quality coffee drink than the free convention coffee.  Better beans, better ingredients, better mixes. Starbucks does not need every coffee drinker to choose quality over price and convenience, they just need enough coffee drinkers to make this choice.

Not every college and university needs to walk away from quality. A high quality degree program and a high quality campus experience are expensive to produce.  Hiring good professors and talented staff takes lots of money. Creating (and maintaining) an attractive and appealing campus experience requires many dollars.  Utilizing flexible and robust technologies to improve learning is a resource intensive exercise.  

We can expect that many students will choose to continue to pay for quality. That students are rational actors, and that they will understand the trade-offs inherent in a cheaper experience and choose to make the investment in time and dollars in seeking out quality.

Sometimes the best edtech and higher ed lessons reveal themselves outside of educational technology and higher education.

When I think of EDUCAUSE 2013 I'll think of that line outside of the Hilton Starbucks.

Your first (and unfiltered) reactions to your 2013 EDUCAUSE experience?

 

 

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