I frequently highlight the importance of three things in building and growing successful academic programs: excellence, accessibility, and efficiency. And in conversations with educators across the country, they nod in agreement. Their focus is largely on the academic realm, however. While not discounting the centrality of academics, I believe the time has come to seriously consider the ways in which we create user (and customer) friendly experiences in all aspects of student life. Institutions that infuse excellence, accessibility and efficiency into the constellation of services and processes that encircle purely academic activity will have a significant competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining students.

Custom and Competitiveness

Colleges and universities are all about custom in more ways than one. In the sense of shared practices or as a type of unwritten law, higher education is awash in custom. Hence the Carnegie hour, the lecture, and the sixteen week semester. Of course, we’re seeing changes in this regard, with new approaches to program design and delivery becoming increasingly common at many institutions. Colleges and universities are also about custom in another sense: that of business patronage. However much academe may protest part of what this implies, the majority of colleges and universities in this country are relatively small – with endowments to match – and so highly tuition dependent. As a result, the ability to attract and retain students/customers is a vital part of sustainability for these institutions. And while the impact of technology on program and course delivery has been dramatic, the capacity of many colleges and universities to harness technical resources to create a more user-friendly educational experience has been less impressive…

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