A Middle Ground in Higher Education Marketing?
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review by Will Patten focused on a small group of global business leaders and legislators who are starting to wonder whether it’s time to create a middle ground between the traditional “selfless philanthropy” mission of non-profit organizations and the “profit-at-all-costs” mission of for-profit enterprises. An interesting concept, and one that has also garnered the attention of Daniel Pink in his book, Driven.
Last week, Ann Oleson, Converge Consulting's founder, wrote about the business of higher education and how higher education marketing practices need to adapt to current financial realities. Institutions such as Kaplan University and University of Phoenix were created and are operated using the for-profit model and have made billions of dollars in profits while educating millions of students. Traditional schools are slowly realizing the benefits of operating with private sector norms and philosophies. As Ann wrote last week, "To many, colleges aren't a 'business.' Instead, higher education is framed more as a public good, an altruistic, well-rounded experience that is a rite of passage into the world of adulthood, professionalism, and perhaps family life. The introduction of sales, marketing, and other dirty words sullies that image."
Some sort of middle ground between for-profit and non-profit could potentially offer the best of both worlds in terms of mission and delivery of what is ultimately the same product (sorry to use that term...): higher education! Would traditional colleges and for-profit schools be competing against each other if they were both set up under a model that was geared toward "not simply 'for profit,' but 'for benefit' and therefore expanding the definition of fiduciary responsibility beyond an exclusive obligation to shareholders to encompass the interests of all corporate stakeholders, including employees, the local economy, and the environment," as Will Patten writes?
Clearly there are more questions than answers. To pose a few:
- Would a middle-ground model like this benefit U.S. higher education?
- Is it even possible?!
- What would it look like?