Good Business, Thriving University: Watch out for Blatant Business-Practice Usage, It Just Might Turn Your School Around

By Lahey, John | University Business, September 2003 | Go to article overview
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Good Business, Thriving University: Watch out for Blatant Business-Practice Usage, It Just Might Turn Your School Around


Lahey, John, University Business


All across America, colleges and universities are teaching students to be successful in business. At Quinnipiac University, we are turning the tables. By adopting the mindset of business executives, we are blending business into higher education--with remarkable results. The ability to develop and act on new ideas is especially critical in these rapidly changing times. Equally important is a management philosophy firmly rooted in sound business principles. After all, IHEs are subject to many of the same market conditions affecting business. Viewed as an industry, higher education's products are academic programs, and its customers are students. Yes, strategic planning, product quality control, customer service, marketing, and (God forbid) even profits matter as much today, as do academic traditions.

To some academic ears, this may sound like heresy, but more colleges and universities should consider it, especially in view of the success we have had at Quinnipiac. A quick look at the facts is enough to make even the most skeptical critic a believer. Over the past 15 years (1987-2002), our undergraduate and graduate enrollments have jumped from 2,000 to 6,600, and full-time undergraduate enrollment alone increased from 1,902 to 4,800; freshmen applications have shot up from 1,000 to 8,000; graduate programs have risen from 4 to 21, the operating budget has increased from $22 million to $155 million; and endowment has increased from $5 million to $85 million. The School of Business recently received AACSB accreditation (something only 30 percent of the business schools in the U.S. have achieved); the Schools of Communications and Health Sciences enjoy a national reputation; and the Law School, acquired in 1992, is one of only 188 ABA-accredited law schools in America. Formerly a college, Quinnipiac was officially designated a university in July 2000 and for the sixth straight year, U.S. News & World Report has cited Quinnipiac as one of the best universities in the Northeast.

This is all pretty impressive for an institution that struggled in earlier years. Between 1982 and 1986, when increasing numbers and percentages of high school graduates were going to college, enrollment at Quinnipiac declined 25 percent and the school was floundering. Too many markets were being served, the budget was being balanced on the expense side only (with no proposed growth plan), and there was no clear direction or strategy in place. The institution had enormous potential, but we had to develop a strategic plan--one with a clearly defined vision. The vision we created was brief, simple, and direct: to offer high quality career-oriented programs at the bachelor's and master's degree Levels, and to offer them in an environment where student (customer) interests come first. (An average $100,000 for four years at a private institution is a Lot of money, and that makes students--and their parents--pretty important customers indeed. If a $100,000 customer walked into your store, how would that customer be treated?)

SWOT analysis. First, we thought it important to evaluate where Quinnipiac was, the nature of its competitive environment, and where best to direct its future. Recognizing the merits of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, an assessment tool widely used in business, I initiated my own version to identify Quinnipiac's strengths and weaknesses and the major factors, internal and external, affecting the institution's competitiveness. Over 200 people within Quinnipiac, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees, were asked to complete a survey of what they saw as the institution's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and indicate how they would like Quinnipiac to look, 10 years into the future. The first survey was completed in 1987; it has been repeated every five years since. SWOT gave us the information we needed, enabling us to define our market niche more clearly and get on board from the start people who would be committed to implementing the eventual strategic plan.

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Good Business, Thriving University: Watch out for Blatant Business-Practice Usage, It Just Might Turn Your School Around
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