Understanding the Unbundling of Higher Education

Understanding the Unbundling of Higher Education

February 06, 2013 by jga_admin

by Ted Grossnickle


A well-thought out paper from the American Enterprise Institute has really captured my attention recently as it highlights the coming sea tide of changes facing in Higher Education.

In his paper “Disaggregating the Components of a College Degree,” Michael Staton has taken a unique and analytical look at what exactly colleges do and the inevitable impact as an online world increasingly begins to compete with them

While it is still to be determined if online education courses produce strong learning results or if a profit can be made from them, we must admit it will challenge our traditional ways of thinking of higher education and that change is bursting on the horizon.

In many ways, higher education is the Wild West right now, responding to a variety of pressures and rapidly facing enormous changes.

With those challenges in mind, I encourage you to take the time to read this thoughtful paper.

It provides a fresh and challenging look at higher ed and the components that make up what we today think of as a college degree. Staton methodically looks at the elements of higher education and separates them into four parts that make up the entire education package, identifying what things colleges and universities do well and those that could be delivered more effectively using technology. I admire the way Staton is using the component parts of a college degree to help us better understand the whole. His way is certainly not the only way you could break it down, but definitely a good start.

Staton’s paper also provides a reasonably quick tour of the myriad challenges in the industry as of the time of its writing 6 months ago – an eternity ago in today’s thinking – but these are pressures we will be facing for years to come.

I encourage you to use Staton’s paper as a platform to advance your own thinking and explore what others are doing in reaction to the pressures. Staton makes clear that students and their parents may increasingly view College in an “unbundled” way.

The challenge for leaders of today’s institutions is to determine how they can create a new hybrid delivery vehicle that can deliver content more effectively, but still provide a branded, united college experience that provides those things that technology cannot.

The challenge for us as fundraisers is to increase our understanding of what comprises a college degree and our institution as a whole and how we might rethink and articulate for donors the opportunities that will exist within colleges that soon will start to do things differently..

As advancement officers, we need to begin thinking about the following questions:

  • What will unbundling do to the community of our institution?
  • What things do we do well that can’t be done online?
  • Do we know how to describe those persuasively?
  • How can we leverage those things we do well to differentiate ourselves to students and to our supporters?
  • How do we remain valuable to our students, alumni, and donors in an unbundled world?
  • What new opportunities does an unbundled college education present for us?
  • How can we leverage alumni relationships and mentoring to prevent unbundling from fragmenting our campus community?

There is no one set of answers to these questions. They will vary by institution, as will the impact of unbundling.

I encourage you to begin considering these important issues sooner rather than later. I would welcome the opportunity to sit down with your leadership and think through the impact of these new challenges.