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Book Excerpt: Advancing Higher Education in Uncertain Times by Larry D. Lauer

Academic institutions are changing fast. And so must the people advancing them.
University Business, Sep 2006

Swift and fundamental changes are coming to the world's colleges, universities, and schools. The changes are riding a wave of new attitudes about the role of government in education, who should support education, the responsibilities of students and parents, education as a competitive industry, and more. Some might say education is an industry at risk.

The following is the exclusive online excerpt from the new book Advancing Higher Education In Uncertain Times (CASE, 2006) by Larry D. Lauer, that looks at the effect of these changes on the people who will deal with the consequences.

Lauer is vice chancellor for marketing and communication at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and an executive in residence in integrated marketing communication in the graduate program at the Schieffer School of Journalism. He directed the Commission on the Future of TCU, the institution's strategic planning project, in 2000.

Lauer was founding chairman of the CASE Advanced Seminar on Integrated Marketing, a chair and faculty member of the CASE Summer Institute on Communication and Marketing at Duke and Vanderbilt Universities, as well as chair of the 2006 CASE Assembly in New York, A Summit on the Future of Higher Education and Advancement. He is the author of Communication Power (Jones & Bartlett, 1977), Competing for Students, Money and Reputation: Marketing the Academy in the 21st Century (CASE, 2002), and more than 25 journal articles and book chapters on integrated marketing and communication. He edited the section on marketing in the Handbook of Institutional Advancement, 3rd edition (CASE, 2000), where he is referred to as "pioneer of integrated marketing for our profession."

The book is available at

Advancing educational institutions is a noble profession. What endeavor could be more important? Advancement professionals make secure the incredible institutions that train political and corporate leaders, facilitate understanding of diverse cultures and traditions, elucidate history's critically important lessons, discover new knowledge, and nurture scientific breakthroughs that improve quality of life. Clearly, advancing this kind of institution is of critical importance.

This is especially so in our time. Institutional advancement has never been more important than it is today--nor as important today as it will become tomorrow. As the world dramatically changes, so does higher education. And as higher education struggles to adapt to a whole new world, so must the academic advancement professions. Understanding how and why the advancement professions will change needs to begin, therefore, with understanding what is going on in the world.

September 11, 2001, shifted the entire world's landscape. Along with the tragic loss of life, this horrible day announced loud and clear that the United States was as vulnerable to the violent consequences of terror as anyplace else. Indeed, 9/11 has come to symbolize-as strongly as any event in history--just how far the world's many rich cultures are from living in peace and with mutual respect.

Higher education faces an incredible challenge: What else will produce leaders and world citizens who solve the world's problems? One can certainly make a strong case that right now, nothing is more important than higher education.

Here is a list of the world's problem areas: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, India, Ukraine, Chechnya, Bosnia, North Korea, Sudan, Colombia, Cuba, Philippines, to name only a few. Whatever happened to the concept of the "global village" where nations understand each other and work together?

When the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union ended, many of us in communications-related fields thought that modern technology would bring us all closer. As technology made the world feel smaller, it seemed likely that the television and computers that connected us would automatically increase understanding. In fact, the opposite happened; differences became more pronounced, conflicts more serious, hostilities more intense. Now, instead of two superpower ideologies colliding, hundreds of lesser ideologies are colliding, many of them quite violently. And there seems to be no solution in sight.

Those who studied communication in the 1960s read Understanding Media and other works by Marshall McLuhan and The Bias of Communication by H.A. Innis. These scholars contended that people resemble their dominant medium. When print was the dominant medium, people were more rational because the use of print requires rationality. But when television became dominant, people became more emotional, adopting television's emotion-driven characteristics.

When I worked in television production, I noticed that people preferred dramatic situations to thoughtful ones. They became impatient with detailed information and preferred quick, satisfying conclusions. It seemed to me that a lot of television violence influenced values and behaviors. Indeed, we had created the first "TV child." It happened first in the technologically advanced cultures and then spread all over the world. The last thing television "liked" was dealing with complex issues. As a medium, it preferred creating emotional entertainment to solving world problems.

Reinforced by the nature of mass media, the tendency to polarize everything burgeoned. It didn't work for politicians to discuss gray areas and complex problems. Arguing that solutions usually result from compromise is not good television. Rather, politicians had to be either fiercely for or fiercely against something, see issues as black or white, and turn themselves into either fundamentalist conservatives or flip-flop liberals.

Few journalists today valiantly resist the tendency toward emotional extremes. But the news demands of cable channels and Internet services, as well as television's persistent preference for the sensational and dramatic, make it more difficult than ever to find out what is really going on in the world.

Sadly, the more information you process, the more confused you are likely to become. Should we have stayed in Vietnam? Did we really know what the situation in Vietnam was at the time? Some days it seemed one way, the next day another. The same holds true for contemporary conflicts. As a young man during the Vietnam era, I had no idea what to think. Should we stay? Should we go? Did we have a just cause, or were we just plain wrong? You know the outcome of that one.

In the final analysis, mass communication has created vast information clutter and sending out more information merely contributes to the clutter. The conventional wisdom that institutions need to communicate more does not hold up. What we need is a better idea of who needs to be influenced, where they are, what they think now, and the best direct and interactive ways to reach them.

Higher education has a really big job ahead. It must learn to understand differing value systems, continue to teach the lessons of history, keep discovering new knowledge, and prepare the leaders who will have to sort it all out. What's more, higher education will have to educate us how communication really works and the real consequences of technology-especially when what actually happens is not borne out by conventional wisdom.

Just when the world needs higher education more than ever, most governments are cutting back their support. This is happening virtually everywhere around the world. The cost of conflict and war, social and human services, and governing in general is forcing political leaders to ask educational institutions to find other sources of support. And this is happening just when the problems these governments face can be solved only by a better-educated populace.

This is happening in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe, Canada, Australia, and virtually everywhere else in the world. And state-by-state it is happening in the United States. While specifics differ, the general problem and perceived solutions are identical everywhere. Universities must raise more money, generate more from their supporters in every way, and ask students and parents to pay more of the costs.

In many countries, such as France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium, education is viewed as a basic entitlement. Citizens pay high lifelong taxes and then, if students are qualified, higher education is free or very inexpensive. These countries also usually have an institution that accepts virtually everyone. In these countries, the concept of "paying back" the institution by supporting it financially does not exist. The thinking is that a university education is more than paid for by all those taxes.

There are so many different "prices" in higher education that no one anywhere really knows what an education should cost. What is a fair price? In the United States, financial aid is distributed so freely that virtually everyone feels entitled to some. Because it appears that everyone else is getting it, many who can afford higher education feel they deserve some support. Indeed, to maintain competitive advantage more institutions offer talented students substantial amounts of financial aid.

Everywhere, little by little, the dynamic of student recruiting is changing. Instead of applying and hoping to be accepted, students and parents shop institutions for the best overall deal--in terms of both educational quality and price. No matter how much money they may have, they do not want to pay more than necessary. Looking beyond selectivity in admissions, they view teaching effectiveness, class size, student services, and job placement as critical quality factors.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the vast amounts of wealth that will soon transfer from one generation to another. Some look forward to a significant increase in institutional giving, but others wonder whether new generations will care as much about their institutions as previous ones. Still others are concerned that current donors who are solicited by every nonprofit in the community are just getting tired, a condition often referred to as "donor fatigue." If every government on earth significantly decreases financial support of higher education, and every needy charity increases its solicitation of private support, will there be enough private support available to meet all these needs?

Dealing with these issues is going to require extraordinary leadership at every level of higher education. The executive level is going to need leaders driven by a clear vision of what is needed to survive as well as to thrive. This may mean developing a new breed of leaders, people possessed with love of and devotion to the academy who also appreciate the academy's unique characteristics and understand exactly how to compete successfully for money and students in a changing world. These leaders also will have to know how to build the reputation and visibility necessary to succeed.

In addition to executive leadership, our institutions will need people who know how to motivate and lead teams. Being competitive will require mustering all the creativity that an institution can find. People throughout the institution will have to come out of their boxes and work together for the greater good. The silos will have to break down and teams form to advance the whole institution with as much energy as advancing the schools and colleges within it.

Academic institutions are complex, more like small cities than corporations. Similarly, highly political leaders of institutions must have the capacity to influence others. Even chief executives have only so much direct power, and it usually applies only to their immediate officers and staff. Beyond that, situations require leadership and people available to lead at every level--at the top but also throughout the institution. The challenge is to clarify these situations as they appear and free the right person to lead when the time is right.

For example, clarifying and expressing institutional identity may involve establishing a center or institute or interdisciplinary program or another initiative to serve as a visible symbol of a specific direction or competitive niche. Entrepreneur programs, leadership institutes, and global centers often become "situations" that require emerging leaders to play significant roles in the institution's future. Many colleges and universities will have to encourage and nurture such leaders.

Advancement must stand front-and-center, prepared to lead in important ways. With governments cutting back, there is ever-increasing pressure to raise money and market the institution. No longer can the chief fund-raising officer think only about the next campaign. Nor can communications people think only about the next publication or news story. And alumni directors are going to need to come up with creative ways to mobilize the entire force for greater support and service.

Strategic plans will have to become marketing-oriented plans. This begins with an environmental scan that determines how society is changing and then outlines how programs, pricing, and access to learning will meet changing needs. Marketing, therefore, will assume much greater significance.

While today's institutional changes are mainly motivated by conflict in the world, marketing as a way of thinking is becoming more critical. And while communication technology has helped create this polarized world, it will now have to contribute to the solution.

Marketing and communication have long stood in the background of advancement. Many have viewed communication as a service area tasked with producing publications and distributing press releases. Marketing, where it has existed at all, has been limited to advertising production and promotional activities. But that is already changing, and it is changing dramatically.

Effective marketing requires institutions to identify target audiences, understand them, and communicate with them as directly and interactively as possible. Effective marketing cuts through the emotion and clutter of modern mass communication technology; it is the antidote to the confusion produced by a constant barrage of television images.

Practiced professionally, marketing is capable of transforming and vitalizing entire institutions. Combined with strategic communication, it can enable chief executives to formulate strategies that clarify an institution's natural strengths, establish competitive advantage, provide the research necessary for basing planning decisions on solid information, and gain the visibility essential to building a reputation for quality. Marketing provides expert counsel on developing communications initiatives for specific programs, dealing with sensitive and controversial issues, and managing serious crises.

The last thing we need to do is to "commercialize" the academy. Great universities need not turn into shopping centers advertising specials in the Sunday newspaper each week. Rather, institutional marketing requires institutions to efficiently coordinate all elements of the enterprise so that they meet the needs of people who will pay for its products and services. When marketing fulfills its potential, it will challenge practitioners in the other areas of advancement to think outside their boxes. How can fund raisers strengthen donor loyalty when so many others court them? After multiple campaigns, to what will donors respond? How can institutions integrate donors more fully into the life of the university without compromising academic integrity?

How can alumni programs get every graduate actively involved in some way with alma mater? Can institutions become self-sustaining through legacy cultivation and recruiting? Can alumni word-of-mouth campaigns enhance visibility and prestige? How can alumni relations better promote the whole concept of lifelong learning and engagement with the institution?

Advancement will become the academy's most important professional activity in the years ahead, and advancement professionals will automatically assume prominent leadership roles. The challenge is to prepare them to handle each task and to step up when called.

That means searching our ranks for those who possess the potential to lead at this level. They need to be big-picture thinkers who love the academy. They need to speak both as academic insiders and as externally skilled professionals passionate about the cause. No matter what their own advancement discipline, they need to see marketing as a way of thinking and be equipped to explain it. Because marketing, without compromising quality or integrity, will meet the needs of a dramatically changing institution and world.

Chapter 2 takes a closer look at the kind of leadership qualities required at all levels. Because these will be heavy-duty assignments, cultivating leadership qualities for the new academy must become a more formal and substantial area of professional development.

To purchase Advancing Higher Education in Uncertain Times go to

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