The Super Bowl of Higher Education

By Thomas Pieplow


The popularity of the National Football League (NFL) has never been higher and the Super Bowl regularly is one of the most watched programs on television.  Although the NFL’s bone-crunching games embody conflict, its business doctrine is collaboration for the greater good.  What if colleges cooperated in the same way?  Could this lead to providing better service to the public?

Despite what others may postulate, there is a “healthy” competition among institutions of higher learning.  Today, you cannot watch a sporting event on television without seeing an advertisement for a specific college.  From a business perspective, students equate to customers and without customers, there is no revenue.  But these competitive forces could be a positive for all concerned by simply embracing the NFL’s spirit of cooperation.

In athletics, we see colleges aligning into a “conference” of member institutions that establish a common set of rules to play in their league, such as the processes for revenue sharing and minimum grade point averages for prospective participants.  But what if these same institutions had a “league” that agreed to a set of admission goals and practices, as well as the sharing of resources?  There is a pronounced imbalance in the nation’s higher-education system, with many colleges engaged in an unrestrained rivalry that could sacrifice mission attainment and educational results market position over educational results in order to maintain an aura of prestige and ranking.

Jerome A. Lucido, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice, recently authored a paper entitled “Lessons from the NFL for Managing College Enrollment”.   In this, Mr. Lucido outlines how today’s enrollment-management strategies often favor wealthier applicants, leading to a compromise in an institutions commitment to access and diversity for all.   Instead we find a wide array of what could best be described as selfish strategies, leading to disproportionate educational results for the nation.

Colleges today have embraced American competitiveness and even though they may have common goals, they often operate as if they were rival companies securing a higher market share. Maybe a better model would be to redefine competition where established educational outcomes outweigh measures of wealth and status.  Mr. Lucido offers a series of suggested changes but the point of my article is not to define and debate the merits of each of these.  But many institutions find themselves in an “arms race” that jeopardizes their very existence.

Capitalism affords that the strongest survive and the spoils accrue to the winners.  Competition is in our nature but I believe there are circumstances where a collective interest is more important.  Institutions of higher learning, as well as every taxpayer, must ask if we are chasing hollow trophies.  It is clear that unbridled competition may not be in the best interests of our nation when it comes to publicly funded education.


3 Responses to The Super Bowl of Higher Education

  1. tony says:

    Great article, Tom! This is definitely an important topic for all of us.

  2. Guy McClure says:

    Go Team Go!

  3. Richard says:

    There are many very valid points being raised in this article. Colleges should adapt better systems because fewer and fewer students are able to even afford school. Priority should be on academic merit.

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