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A “textbook” lesson from private colleges

We can find valuable reminders of how to be successful almost anywhere we look, if we’re always on the lookout for them. The country’s private colleges offer a good case in point.

For years there have been dire predictions that the bargain-price tuitions offered at our heavily-subsidized public universities would push the smaller, more expensive private colleges out of the marketplace. Interestingly, so far, the pundits have been dead wrong.

The fact is enrollment at private colleges has hit an all-time high this academic year. And, that’s happened in spite of the worst economic climate in recent history, an economy that should be hammering enrollments at the traditionally high-priced private schools. Why, then, are they experiencing such success?

In two words, the answer is “serving students.” So says Donald R. Eastman, III, president of Eckerd College, a private liberal arts institution. It seems like every big public university these days wants to be a research university, developing more and more graduate programs while diminishing the focus on undergraduate students. Classes are large. There’s little student-professor interaction or mentoring. Even very difficult courses, like organic chemistry, are taught in large lecture halls. Moreover, public universities also see their mission as economic development. It all leads to reducing seats and focus on undergraduate students.

On the other hand, private colleges by definition have a single focus on undergraduate education. Small classes, access to a full-time faculty and personal student mentoring/advising are all the strengths of the private college. Interestingly, 79 percent of all graduates from private colleges get their degree in four years, while only 49 percent do so at the public universities, according to Eastman.

It’s not my intention to impeach public universities. I’m a proud graduate of Indiana University. My point is that small private colleges are flourishing, not dying, because they have remained single-minded in their mission of educating undergraduates. They know precisely why they’re in business and their focus on serving their “customer” is unwavering.

Just as the small colleges can be successful because they recognize who they serve, so can our boat dealerships when we identify the same thing. A big public university can excel in some areas, of course, but that will likely be at the expense of other areas. Similarly, our dealerships cannot be everything to everyone, either. Once again it brings home the importance lesson of positioning our dealerships in the marketplace by determining who our customers will and will not be, and then making service to them the hub of our business operation. Success – it always comes back to serving customers! ?


7 comments on “A “textbook” lesson from private colleges

  1. Captain Andrew

    There is a very big difference between a college and a university. A more fair comparison would be a public university and a private university. Excluding price, they operate in the same manner. Colleges, on the other hand, are much smaller organizations that are designed for teaching undergraduates and are not designed to perform research.

    That being said, lets us discuss value. If candidates apply for a job with all else being equal, chances are a student from say Stanford University (a public university in California), will get the job over a candidate from say Franklin and Marshall (a small private college.) The difference is due to Marketing. Standford is a nationally and world known university, Not many people outside of the mid-Atlantic know about Franklin and Marshall.

  2. Komrade Karl

    Capt A ,
    You got the point but missed the meaning & how it relates to this blogs audience (Boat Dealers)- The colleges offer more personal, intimate service, & monitoring of their students & have done well attracting customers
    (students) in spite of costing as much or more as the “big box” educators. It’s not marketing. If it was the University of Phoenix grads would get hired over every other university big or small…They have a great football stadium you know ;-))

  3. capt. skip

    hay capttan aNdrew, I gradidutated from F&M. I dink im mutch more smarter then thos Stamfurd peoples.

  4. DKB

    Hey Captain Andrew,

    Your position falls short in these areas.
    Stanford is a private university, not public. It has an undergraduate enrollment of 6,000. Stanford is very similar to a small college or small university. If you wanted to compare a public university, Arizona State is a much better example. Undergraduate enrollment at ASU is 54,000. I would now argue that a Franklin and Marshall degree would hold its own against an ASU degree. Although ASU is “better known”, it is also considered a degree that anyone can get. One of the reasons that Stanford degrees are well respected is because it is very difficult to get into the school, and their academic standards are extremely high. Most private institutions hold to a much higher academic standard than public schools, and are often considered better educations than “cookie cutter” public schools.

    As to the original story, a major reason private institutions are not feeling the pinch that public schools are feeling is because the typical student at a private university comes from a more affluent background. Just as the high-end yacht, market has held up better than the small to mid size boat market, the private schools have not been as hard hit by this economy as the public schools. Demand for the product has more to do with the success of a boat retailer than making their business operate like a private college.

  5. ARCH

    I think I get your point. But you also missed a very important fact. Attendence at ALL colleges and universities is at a all time high. High school graduation rates are higher than they have been in decades. For decades, the population has been growing leaps and bounds, yet there are not that many new colleges.
    So while you do make a good point with some of your comments, I really don’t see how you can compare the two. There are probably other examples that would have been more correlated with the trends in the marine industry.

  6. Captain Andrew

    Komrade Karl,

    You are correct. I did get the point and I did miss the meaning. Personal (and Excellent sincere) service is very very important.

  7. Tina

    I’m sure that we can all agree that there are many reasons why someone would select a small college over a large university – regardless of whether that institution is public or private. The same goes for the boat dealership. However, there is one major piece of the argument missing in this case: funding. When times are tough, people return to school. Perhaps to sharpen skills or learn a new trade or finish that long put-off degree. For those individuals who are suddenly unemployed, stimulus money has been made available to return to school.

    Where is the funding for dealerships? My understanding is that the traditional lending institutions that so generously loaned whatever was needed to buy that boat have suddenly disappeared. So what does this mean? It means that dealerships now must emphasize customer service even more. No longer are dealerships simply selling a boat – they are selling a dream, a lifestyle! Treat the customer as you wish to be treated and you will have a customer for life. Be that dream! Sell that lifestyle as if you are living it! Today’s “self-pay” is far pickier. You will be held accountable for more than ever – including how clean your restrooms are.

    In a strong economy, businesses no longer suffer, but education does. People returns to work and forgets about the degree or desire to learn a new skill. But, the most flexible institutions will change with the times and accommodate even the busiest of student by providing the customer service and the accommodations that the student needs (e.g. classes at convenient times, clean restrooms). In other words – a student for life. Maybe we could all learn a bit from education. When was the last time a college or university went out of business?

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