Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Massage is the Mission?

Speak of the devil- here's an article that reads like a parody of what I was just talking about a few days ago: colleges spending parents' money on amorphous ''value'' luxuries instead of focusing on actually educating their students.

Finals week is stressful. So, colleges ''have long evolved beyond handing out free cookies or ice cream come finals time, offering massages, free apparel, and small doses of (legal and mild) stimulants.'' Also some universities have ''free'' caricature artists and a ''Sandy Candy station''. Yippee!

There's also a comment from a ''Director of Involvement Services'' who hired a Pet Therapy program, just like they do in nursing homes. You have to wonder what Director of Involvement Services pays. What's the job security like? What is their operating budget, and what amount of that comes out of tuition, per student? Lastly, has anyone measured to see whether or not exam scores actually rose after the introduction of all these perks? Just out of curiosity...

Look, people, here is Rufus' General Business Advice, and it applies to every sort of business or institution, which all seem to be failing about the same way these days....

1. Figure out what it is that your organization produces. Is it widgets? Automobiles? Magazines? In our case, it's simply educated young people. And the problem, quite frankly, is that we no longer produce that many of them.

2. Stop throwing money at unnecessary, ''outside-the-box'', add-ons that have nothing to do with your organizational mission. This doesn't come across as ''innovative'' or ''exciting''. It comes across as what it is- trying to placate your customers with a bunch of bells and whistles because you've lost all sight of your original mission.

3. Return to the original mission with new found determination. This is a constant process. You always have to return to that original mission. Universities need to figure out why our graduates can't read or write at a college level. That's it. As the world around us is always changing, the organization will always have to adapt; but the core mission remains the same. A university that no longer produces educated young people is a failure, regardless of whether or not their students are well-massaged. Every study I've seen of college graduates seems to indicate that a hell of a lot of universities are failing. American companies spend billions of dollars annually on ''remedial education'' for new hires who just got out of college. And, every time I talk to executives from the companies that hire our graduates, I hear the same thing: ''What are you teaching these people?'' Nobody ever asks whether we've considered hiring a pet therapist.

4. Focus seriously on that mission. This is hard work, and it's boring at times, and it's ''not for everyone''. But, again, this is the key to why organizations succeed or fail.

5. Repeat.

Now, imagine if Detroit had focused on making really good cars and finding a sustainable model to continue making really good cars; instead of spending a fortune on SUVs that nobody will want as soon as gas prices spike, adding a bunch of ''options'' to badly-designed SUVs, proliferating into god knows how many ''lines'', and using whatever leverage they have to enforce their monopolies. Imagine if newspapers had focused on reporting the events accurately and quickly, instead of adding on countless unnecessary sections, trying to please every political ''bias'' they can, and attempting to morph into lifestyle magazines. And just imagine if universities returned to giving students a well-rounded classical education; instead of breaking into a thousand different electives with no known center, and trying to replicate the experience of a pleasure cruise in order to keep the students from wondering why nobody on campus seems to have any idea what it means to be ''college educated'' anymore.

When I look at most universities, what I see is Enron a few years before the crash. It's not that there's a problem with them trying to do all of these other things to make life more pleasant; life should be more pleasant. The problem is that they no longer know how to ensure that they do, and will continue to do, what it was that they were established to do- educate young people. There's a tremendous amount of obfuscation going on. And it will not last.

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