Higher Education is a Lot Like Making Pizza

I know some of you are struggling to find courses to fill out your fall schedule.  The cumulative impact of four years of budget cuts has produced a “new normal” and we are in the process of repositioning ourselves to become a smaller, more selective, more competitive, more research-intensive College of Business.  This transition requires us to make some difficult choices, including sacrificing some student choice in the form of fewer course offerings to maintain the quality of our educational experience.

 Higher education is a lot like making pizza. Better ingredients (faculty, students, facilities), make for better pizza (education) and a more satisfying consumer experience (more engaged students). A better experience leads to a loyal customer base (dedicated alumni) and higher demand for my pizza that will support a premium price.  I would rather use fewer ingredients and reduce menu variety than produce lower-quality pizzas that lead to less satisfying customer experiences.

 The best reason to come to a major research university like UNLV is because you believe  the experience will give you a competitive edge–that you will gain insights and perspective from faculty who are able to help you see the future rather than just explain current best practice.  We in the College of Business believe in the transformative power of putting research faculty in front of every student.  Such faculty are in the best position to engage students in the discovery process, sharpen their skills, give them perspective and promote career success.

 A recent study reported in Business Week supports this view, finding that MBA students taught by research active faculty earned $24,000 more after graduation than students who learned from less research-active faculty.  Employers want, and are willing to pay more for creative data-driven problem solvers than people who just mimic what others are doing.  So in these hard budgetary times, I would rather offer fewer sections, classes or majors and stay true to our commitment to prepare students to compete than sacrifice our learning environment for the sake of greater variety in our class schedule.

 I know that touting the long-term benefits of a high-quality education doesn’t mitigate  the short-term frustration that goes with not getting into the sections you want this fall. I also know that some of you are concerned that course bottlenecks will slow your time to graduation.  But in committing to this strategy, we recognize that some judicious substitution of courses in plans of study will be needed to ensure that students  complete their degrees on time.  Frankly, the right class substitutions might even give you some new perspectives that can greatly enrich your career (a topic of an upcoming post). So, while we might not offer anchovy pizza anymore, the four cheese one is awesome and eating it just might change the course of your life…. Dig in.

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Welcome Back

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste” – Paul Romer

It is no secret that UNLV has been going through very difficult times. You will see the impact of “the new normal” as you return to the College of Business this fall.  We have fewer sections of courses, larger class sizes, and less faculty and staff.  Throughout the fall semester we will be working to consolidate some departments, stream-line degree programs, restructure services, and do more with less.

All organizations must adapt to new realities and find ways to remain viable and relevant especially in challenging times.  Our current environment demands that we experiment with new methods, take risks we would not consider in more munificent times and transform the educational experience in the College of Business.  A crisis redefines you.  It is an opportunity an organization cannot afford to waste.

As a business student, you have the opportunity to participate in a real time case study of how an organization responds to a new environment and repositions itself.    While this may be the first time you are part of a large organizational change, it most certainly will not be your last.  Businesses reinvent themselves regularly. Observe and learn.

My experience tells me that the biggest obstacle in achieving significant change is uncertainty.  Uncertainty frightens people.  Frightened people tend to try to hold on to what they have.  They look backward not forward and resist change because they equate change with loss.  Resistance leads to a slow organizational response and a slow organizational response typically leads to a prolonged and painful death.

To break this destructive cycle, a leader must communicate a clear vision of what the organization will look like in the future and how the changes that are being made will help realize that vision.  Constant communication in a transparent manner is a key part of any successful restructuring effort.

Fortunately this is much easier to do today than it was when I started my career.  Back then, I would either have had to meet in small groups with everyone in the college regularly: a very time consuming process since I have more than 120 employees and 4,000 students.  Or I would have had to use messengers and hope they got my message right, or I would have had to send out copies of memos to everyone.  Today, I can blog, tweet, and post on the web in ways that allow people to provide feedback in almost real time.   So, you will be hearing from me regularly and I invite you all to participate in the dialogue about your experience at the College of Business.

Welcome back.