How Higher Ed Institutions Compete in a Future Where Students Can Find Anything Online

C19 Recap: How Higher Ed Institutions Compete in a Future Where Students Can Find Anything Online

With technological advancements causing industries to move at the speed of light and the rise of easy access to educational platforms, how do traditional higher ed institutions keep up? We are a culture of convenience and when it comes to earning an advanced degree, taking the fastest and most affordable path isn’t an exception. With digital also removing geographical barriers and pushing the competitive landscape, institutions are faced with the choice to creatively stand out among the competition or the possibility of quickly getting phased out.

The Future of Education

Today, the younger workforce is decreasing the average career length and pivoting their career more often, requiring more education. This workforce also has more access to educational platforms, most with largely undifferentiated content. Online programs are becoming the norm in almost every industry giving students the ability to access both the country’s top ranked programs and the cheapest offerings available all from the comfort of their own living room. The rise of continuous learning with smaller program sizes has given way to a more transactional environment no longer focused on the educational journey, but advancing to the next step.

Relationships vs Products

To keep up with higher educations ever changing environment, Chrysanthos Dellarocas at Boston University proposes that institutions must adapt by shifting the focus on relationships to continue providing value to their students. The competitive advantage of higher education institutions is the community of current and past learners and the training, mentoring and networking that can be fostered in these communities. Each of us value our time and will likely pursue opportunities that are more convenient unless there is more value and meaning in an alternative. As we are more often pulled a thousand different ways, having people in place to trust, provide direction and consult on skills can give institutions the purpose necessary to be the clear winner against a competitor. The brand of each institution must shift from focusing on the time spent in a program or degree to a lifelong network that nurtures a person and their career long after their time there ends.

Lifelong Loyal

The traditional marketing funnel ends when a student is enrolled in a program or degree.


Dellarocas challenges those in the higher ed space to shift this thinking to lifelong loyal, moving away from a transactional relationship to one where students are kept engaged, consuming content and reinvesting back into the institution. Getting a college freshman to first step on campus cannot be the end goal anymore, it’s the first step in a lifelong relationship.

“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself.” – John Dewey

We must move beyond marketing institutions as publishers of programs, because the reality is that the future will belong to online programs (, LinkedIn, etc.). Institutions can then focus on building a central hub where evolving life learners return even as their life and career needs change. Moving above the transactional nature of program enrollment will be a significant challenge requiring time, resources and convincing, but heading in this direction will keep institutions competitive. This will provide real value in a time where prospective students could easily be overwhelmed with the amount of options available to them.

Interested in switching up your marketing efforts? Reach out to Converge to get the conversation started.

Taylor Gehrls
Taylor Gehrls
March 12, 2019