The Value of a Brand: How Institutions Can Compete in a Crowded Marketplace

Above all else, a college or university is recognized by its name—whether that be on the sweatshirt of a first-year student coming home for the holidays or on a diploma hanging behind the desk of a fortune 500 CEO. The name carries as much weight as the education itself, and in an increasingly crowded space, with newcomers emerging from outside of higher ed’s periphery, staying competitive and maintaining name recognition might be more important than ever.  

On this episode of the Illumination podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia is joined by Tom Cavanagh,  Vice Provost of Digital Learning at the University of Central Florida. The two discuss non-institutional entities joining the education sector, and how colleges and universities can differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace.   

Cavanagh has seen first-hand the demand for workforce-orientated, skills-based programs. These courses often don’t even include a credential but are more geared towards preparing students with the skills they can take to an employer.  

“It’s students that need to quickly learn Python coding,” Cavanagh says. “There is a marketplace response to that demand, and I’m not sure that institutions of higher education are moving fast enough to meet that demand.” 

It’s not necessarily up to the department what programs are provided on campus or off. There are regulations keeping systems stagnant for years at a time. Since colleges and universities are often large institutions, ensuring each department is on the same page is key.

Having one or two departments slip away too fast could disrupt any integration between faculty.  

 “That’s the role of continuing education units within these institutions,” Cavanagh says. “They can be the speedboat turning on a dime, while the battleship is still turning behind them.” 

Google Ad Certification and Amazon’s Kindle self publishing  are some big-name examples of non-education institutions gunning for the education and certification space. More education-driven examples include Coursera and edX.  

“They’re filling niches. Some are even partnering with continuing education arms of institutions to try to meet the needs of learners,” Cavanagh says. 

Filling niches and expanding learning opportunities to more people online is further driving competition in what is already a crowded marketplace.  

That unparalleled access is key for learners, yet some higher ed leaders worry about the value proposition of traditional programs.  

“It becomes a potential existential threat in some ways,” Cavanagh says. 

Colleges and universities do have a secret weapon in their back pocket already though:  continuing education and workforce development units.  

“We have a project management certificate that is as good as something one can get from a commercial provider,” Cavanagh says. “If that’s going to be what’s required of someone to get a job, then we ought to be able to provide it to them. We know instruction. We know how to serve students. We understand industry. We have advisory boards.” 

Private companies cannot be the only ones providing these services’ institutions with access to industry insiders and partnerships with local, or international, organizations need to have a stake in the game.  

The content is the brand,and as higher education providers, institutions need to provide a higher standard of content.   

“You can get your programming degree from Bob’s House of Programming, but that doesn’t carry the same weight as getting it from a university, such as the University of Central Florida,” Cavanagh says. “That’s a real asset for institutions that they shouldn’t forget. They need to be able to leverage the value of a brand.”

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Last updated: August 26, 2022


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