Changing needs and marketplaces have created myriad conversations around the question What should we do next? We know that answering this question is not always easy, but persistent myths about the marketplace have made answering it even more difficult than it needs to be.

At the risk of offending or oversimplifying, we want to briefly explore and debunk a dozen or so myths that are unnecessarily confounding and distracting today’s decision makers.

This blog will outline the first six myths. The balance will be in my February blog post.

  1. Myth: As soon as the economy improves everything will return to normal
    • Reality: The economy is not the source of many of the problems facing higher education. Rather, the economy has exacerbated problems and issues that have long been in play.
  2. Myth: The basic pricing model of higher education is sound
    • Reality: Skyrocketing student debt, more students defaulting on debt, more students deferring college, and more students seeking lower-cost educational alternatives suggest that the basic pricing model is broken. The too-high cost of going to college is the single biggest challenge facing higher education.
  3. Myth: There are plenty of traditional-age students to go around
    • Reality: Currently, only 20 percent of high school students plan to go to college full time and live in a dorm, and this percentage continues to go down. The elite universities and liberal arts colleges with deep pockets and strong brands will always have an adequate share of these students, but lesser-known and lesser-quality schools will find themselves scrambling even more for students in the future than they are now. If you want to grow larger, someone has to get smaller.
  4. Myth: There are plenty of adult and online students to go around
    • Reality: There are simply too many colleges and universities pursuing these two markets, and the cost of recruiting is up and the margins are down. Over the last couple of years we have also seen a dramatic softening of these markets. There is significant data that suggests these markets are declining in number.
  5. Myth: To be a credible college, we need to have the same basic programs as our competitors
    • Reality: Definitely not. While most colleges need some basic courses to fulfill their education mission, all colleges need a significant number of programs that are compellingly different from their competitors. If more than 70 percent of the programs you offer are offered by your top competitors, then you have missed a significant opportunity.
  6. Myth: If we offer more programs, we will attract more students
    • Reality: The word “more” is one of two words that are bankrupting higher education. The other word is “better.” When resources are constant, increasing the number of programs reduces quality. Most schools don’t need more programs. What they need are fewer, stronger in-demand programs. Mission creep and Carnegie climb have imperiled much of higher education.

The remaining myths will be presented in my next post.




This post is drawn from my upcoming book Vision-Centric Strategic Planning for Colleges and Universities: A Thoughtful Guide to Strategy Formation and Execution. It is due out March 30 and is available from

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