The University Dilemma (Recommended Reading)

Posted by: Myk Likhov

I’ve got a mild obsession with the institution of higher education. I’m the 1st generation American who’s family had no idea how the educational process worked, and then (successfully, and also unsuccessfully) fumbled my way through the system. So I naturally think about value, access, and process related to it. Over the past year, I’ve been hearing people and companies talk about the disruption in higher education, and now, the topic is being discussed everywhere in my circles as well.

A few days ago, I saw this super insightful report from Booze & Co. titled The University Dilemma that I want to share. It covers a lot of ground in a short format (5 pages), and introduces the dynamics at play. If you’re interested in reading it, the report is below. Otherwise, here are my notes on its big ideas:


  1. They fail to help students fulfill their goals.
  2. The cost of a college or university degree is out of control.
  3. Institutions of higher education fail to meet the needs of another critical constituency: em- ployers.
  4. For-profit, online universities such as Phoenix, DeVry, and Kaplan (which serve 9% of all college/grad students) are not that innovative.


  1. TopCoder, a software community/developer, runs coding competitions to identify top talent on the basis of demonstrated proficiency, and attract participants from around the world. The model challenges the fundamental need for an advanced degree by explicitly measuring ability, not pedigree.
  2. Evangelical megachurches, like North Point Ministries, offer lessons on scaling up technology while maintaining an immersive experience. It serves 30,000 congregants/week through a network of 5 campuses, and its collection of podcasts, newsletters, and streaming videos are accessed  1M times/month. Love the point on how televangelists of the 1970s and ’80s rocked cable to their advantage.
  3. Online gaming. Massive multiplayer role-playing games — such as WoW create worlds in which gamers collaborate to tackle complex challenges. Games may not designed for educational purposes, but some believe it could play more of a university-like role.

I appreciate the author’s point that 2nd class schools can’t compete with top institutions. It’s true. Here are the vectors that form the value proposition for schools:

  1. Selection – For employers, the admissions process of a top-ranked university generates tremendous value. Ivy League schools achieve excellence in selection.
  2. Knowledge – The creation of new understanding and capabilities, for society as a whole. Research universities stress knowledge.
  3. Certification – Technical skills support job search and qualifications. Community colleges highlight certification.
  4. Immersion – The college experience offers an opportunity for creating rich connections among like-minded peers. Large state schools with top-ranked basketball and football programs emphasize immersion.

Schools need to choose which vector they compete within, and based on their rankings and resources, should leverage technology and new business models to reinvent themselves.

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This entry was posted on Friday, January 25th, 2013 at 11:10 am and is filed under What I read today.