Jonathan Gabriel, my Information Specialist at UCF passed on a copy of Pegasus Magazine to me the other day. The story that caught my eye was on UCF’s size and whether “bigger is better”. It drew my interest in large part because we have been having the same conversations here at UNLV and especially about the Lee Business School.
The crux of the Pegasus story is that being big provides students with a wide array of opportunities and is a consequence of a drive to improve access and student success. I have no qualms with that line of reasoning, but as Seth Godin wrote in his blog this week, more isn’t always better, “sometimes only better is better.”
Let’s agree that people flock to excellence. Take a look at the other schools in the top ten list of big universities: Arizona State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Texas, Texas AM, Florida, Michigan State, Penn State, Indiana—for the most part big schools in big states with academic reputations that UCF and UNLV envy.
Let’s also agree that while big gets you noticed, admiration comes from getting noticed for the right things. These include distinctiveness, transformational experiences and achievement. The colleges and universities that will thrive in the coming decades, those that will attract the best students, faculty and resources, will be those that have made a conscious effort to differentiate themselves in the marketplace by communicating and delivering a unique value proposition that capitalizes on institutional assets that are difficult for others to emulate.
If UCF and its College of Business or UNLV and LBS want to move from big to great, these young institutions will have to define and implement a strategy that provides a distinctive value proposition. This means they will have to identify the type of people they want to attract, how they will change them while they are here, and how these changes will advantage those that come into contact with university in the marketplace and life. This also requires that an institution know what they are not and that they cannot be all things to all people. From my perspective I will know we have made real progress when after listening to the goals and aspirations of a great person considering joining us, we respond “well then I guess UCF isn’t for you….that’s not what we do here…you might consider school “X”….It was great to meet you, good luck.
And, I’ll bet if we execute this strategy and become better in distinctive ways, we will be plenty big.