Your institutional brand is sacred, or so we hear repeatedly from our external relations staff. Usage of the institutional logo and name is managed by a set of guidelines, right down to the tone and shade of the color in the university logo. This brand name can be important to prospective students, as the name on the degree and résumé is a linkage students will carry for the balance of their career. Yet as education moves into an era of ‘edupreneuralism’ with for-profit schools continuing their expansion, aided by the benefits of non-distance limiting technology, traditional state universities are balancing the trend with a response of their own. Continuing education administrators are often times leading, or at least involved with, the changes in course offerings and delivery methods.
Some are jumping into Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) — ivory tower, football stadium, faculty offices and all — offering their core value of education for free in part or, sometimes, in full. However the end goal, the degree, is not awarded, but the knowledge has been ‘given away.’ Other schools are dipping their proverbial toe into the murky and new waters of the MOOCs, waiting to see if the toe is nibbled off or if the waters are safe. Some schools have taken an approach of spinning-off the online education component into a private-venture that carries the parent name but a revised logo. This can be part of the continuing education program, or a separate program. There is no clear trajectory yet, although there is a constant factor: sanctity of the brand.
Preserving the brand name they have worked to earn and maintain in the last 150ish years isn’t something most educational leaders wish to risk tarnishing in exchange for technology that hasn’t even been generally available long enough to reach the legal drinking age in the United States. At risk of sounding like President Bush from 2003 to 2006, the advice for university leaders and their response to MOOCs and other emerging technology would be this: Stay the course. Continue to evaluate, and be involved in, the changing landscape of education. But also continue your ‘traditional’ offerings from your institution and continuing education program.
Your institutional brand has been built upon academic freedoms, responsive to community needs (in university time) and a general focus on classroom-based instruction with an emphasis on the student and faculty member. Athletic teams, politics, budgets and changing student demographics play into our mix and sometimes distract us from our core mission. But, in the end, our role as university and continuing education leaders is to preserve the brand our institution has created while carefully evaluating and engaging with our community how we can best meet their needs. Preserving the brand is important for your program, and looking at where you want your institution to be in 10 years helps set the framework for your operations this year and moving forward.
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