Chief Academic Officers Address Quality, Partnerships, and Competing in a New Marketplace

From the NASULGC Newsline

July 1999

Based on its mission and strengths, each institution should identify the new markets to which it will respond in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Colleges and universities should identify best practices for establishing and assessing quality in this new environment. These were among the key challenges and opportunities identified by chief academic officers at the NASULGC Council on Academic Affairs summer meeting. Participants also addressed concerns involving scholarship and teaching and corporate/higher education partnerships.

At a session on "New Perspectives on Quality in Emerging Higher Education Markets," Robert Tucker, President of InterEd and former Senior Vice President of the University of Phoenix, enumerated several "sea changes" in higher education. Among them:

  • Corporate universities have grown by 2000 percent in ten years,
  • There has been an erosion in the distinction between "education" v. "training,"
  • Most recent innovation has been in non-traditional higher education, and
  • The financial community has made higher education one of its market sectors.

Market forces affecting colleges and universities include our transformation to a technologically driven society where there is a short life cycle for knowledge, 85 percent of course offerings didn't exist 45 years ago, and information technology accounts for some 50 percent of growth in our gross domestic product.

As a result of these trends, there are several new players in the higher education marketplace. They include brokers and portals for online offerings; independent corporate provider of education; and new types of students. Tucker estimated that there are some 6 million "nontraditional" students who are looking for a high return on their investment in postsecondary courses and who want to apply their learning immediately.

According to Tucker, large public higher-education institutions are losing market share to small virtual institutions, aggressive independents, those who market well, those with more partnerships, those who adapt quickly, and those who provide most of their offering online, Learners are increasingly valuing workplace skills, competencies, and general knowledge, while they are less focused on degrees, institutional loyalty, and faculty-centered institutions. To be successful in this climate, Tucker said, traditional institutions must meet the challenge of maintaining quality while recognizing that time is a commodity, virtual has value, service is king, and partnerships attract.

Terrence Heng, Corporate Vice President and Director of Corporate Software Technology at the Motorola Corporation, told participants that even though the U.S. is strong economically and technologically, some experts are concerned about the Nation's capacity to innovate. Given the rapid pace of technological change and rapidly decreasing life cycles for products, we can only obtain a long-term competitive advantage by learning faster than the rest of the world. What is the university's responsibility in the new competitive global landscape? According to Heng, university research should be focused on creating "new wealth" for society as a whole, including improvements in processes for manufacturing, productivity, ecology, and safety.