As tuition costs skyrocket, universities are looking for innovative ways to attract students – and not necessarily for a four-year degree.
The concept of getting a bachelors degree is still very much part of culture (especially here in the United States). To say that the traditional method of getting a formal education is “dying” would be a lie. However, gone are the days where simply having a degree is enough to differentiate you from your peers in the working world. As such, the university route isn’t as appealing.
Some students are finding that they can get a good education at a local community college while at the same time pursuing education in other areas that they are passionate about. Often this other education isn’t in the form of classroom work but “on the job” training. By way of example, I know this to be true with software developers. They can hone their craft of coding through agency work, make money, and gain valuable experience while at the same time obtaining a degree.
The short of it is that there are more options today for people to learn valuable skills without going into crazy debt.
Have you heard of Masterclass?
If you have, then likely you have seen their ads on YouTube which are so incredibly well-done that I often find myself watching them in their entirety. If you aren’t familiar with Masterclass, it’s a site that offers a wide-array of online courses on subjects people care about. Subjects that will make you a better chef, actor, chess player, painter, and so on. The best part is that these (recorded) online classes are taught by people you would know. There is an acting class that is taught by Samuel L. Jackson, a cooking class by Gordon Ramsay, chess by Garry Kasparov, and so on.
If you’re looking to take a cooking class then don’t you think you would jump at the opportunity to learn the insider secrets of Gordon Ramsay? You bet! Even if you are supplementing your formal cooking courses at a university, this is probably something you would be interested in and it’s exactly what higher education has to compete with.
How do traditional universities compete with this shift in educational pursuits?
I have no doubt that this topic could result in a 100,000 word thesis. It is a very complex issue with many facets to consider. At the risk of oversimplifying, let me point out one way that I have noticed universities competing for attention and brand awareness: copying what works for others on YouTube.
I was on YouTube the other day and I was sitting through the usual five second ad. It was another Masterclass commercial, but this time on WWII history. Except as I looked again I noticed one thing was really different… it wasn’t an ad for Masterclass but instead an ad for a course offered by Hillsdale College, a very small private college in Michigan.
They did such a good job on this ad. The production quality was incredible – on par with Masterclass.
They didn’t have Hollywood instructors, but they made a point to highlight the (quite impressive) credentials of the folks you would learn from. If you didn’t know about Hillsdale, it wouldn’t even occur to you that this is a school with enrollment of about 1,500 students.
Universities have to go to where their students are, not the other way around.
With exception of the big name schools, many educational institutions will do well by going to where their students are located. This is exactly what Hillsdale College did. At some point I must have watched something on WWII and now YouTube served me relevant ads. Seeing as the course they are advertising is free to enroll they probably get a lot of good leads into their pipeline simply by targeting people with relevant interests.
But advertising a college course isn’t enough. College courses are boring. No one wants to sit through a lecture and do homework. Instead the production of the online course has to hold a learner’s attention. This is where universities can take a lesson from the folks at Masterclass (and similar sites). They don’t have to reinvent the wheel, they can just copy what is proven to already work.
For the more obscure universities and colleges to survive (especially those with high tuition costs like Hillsdale), they need to adjust their course offering to appeal to today’s student. I’m not saying that every course has to change, but certainly any online course needs to live up to the high-standards of today. If they don’t then they will lose out to the fresh, entertaining courses from sites like Masterclass every single time.