• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


Car Go

Last week, I made my annual trip to the New York Automobile Show.

April 12, 2015

Last week, I made my annual trip to the New York Automobile Show.  Though I grew up in a total mass transit environment and for many years my family did not own a car, I also had a love affair with the automobile including fins, curved windshields and all. I have attended every car show for decades and I still try not only to look, but to sit behind the wheel of every desirable car.

The show this year was the best in years. There were so many attractive cars that it was a pleasure just to be there.  It looks like American cars are coming back. The new Cadillac CT6, Lincoln Continental, Buick convertible, Chevrolet Malibu, and Dodge Charger, all were present and clear symbols of a reviving American industry, emerging to once again take a visible leadership role.  Other manufacturers were also presenting dynamic desirable alternatives, including a new Honda Pilot, to a Lexus RX350; from a Nissan Murano to a C class Mercedes; from a sporty new VW Golf R to a new Land Rover Discovery Sport to a new Volvo XC90 SUV.  There are days I am sorry I never pursued being an auto magazine editor and having the opportunity to test all of these models. I would be that ideal combination, somewhere between Consumer Reports and Road &Track.

The automobile industry, if you think about it, has substantial similarities to higher education.  Every available space in the Javits Center in New York was filled with cars, all of which can clearly transport you from point A to point B, but the differences between the cars are enormous.  Many different budgets can be accommodated and many different experiences encountered but, at the end of the day, they all serve the purpose of moving us from one point to another point. For many of us, how you travel is as important as where you travel.

Higher education works the same way. Every college and university can facilitate moving a student from being a first semester freshmen to earning a degree. And yet, here too, the experiences are very different.  Whether small seminars or large lectures, online, hybrid, or in person, study broad, internships, co-op experiences all lead to a similar degree but with very different experiences and different levels of learning. In both education and the automobile industry, the goal is to make what you offer as desirable as possible, as unique and as affordable as can be. And in both education and the automobile industry, list price often isn’t the same as actual cost. Discounts on cars or discounting tuition are both designed to respond to price sensitivity and lead to more positive outcomes. 

As much as the industry we are in is unique and I am always proud to be an educator and an economist, the economics of our industry and the marketing of our product is not dissimilar from the automobile industry and many other businesses and industries.



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