Nixon Went to China

We have a big image problem. I have spent a good share of my early mornings the past two weeks having coffee with alums. I’ve met over a hundred in all. Perhaps the single most consistent feedback that I have gotten while drinking all that caffeine is that alums are worried about the quality of their degree. Every alumnus wants to have graduated from an institution that would not admit them today. But most of the UCF alums I met were concerned about degree erosion, not insufficient degree enhancement. The perception is that we are admitting too many students, ignoring their communication skills, providing them with too little applied rigor and sending them out into the job market without a professional demeanor. One alumnus said: “I’m tired of hearing that I am one of thousands with just another worthless business degree.”

Perception, it is said, is reality. Our size and recent press accounts of business school being “easy” have contributed to this perception. Newsweek didn’t help either, but frankly we are hurting our own case. In the past couple of weeks, I have seen too many transfer credits from low quality sources, too many pre-requisites waived to accommodate student circumstance, too many high class g.p.a.’s and too many unprepared transfer students put on academic probation after just a semester. Opportunity cannot be synonymous with unfettered access. A student-centric approach requires standards. Everyone shouldn’t get a medal for participating. We need to redefine our culture in the College of Business Administration away from access and toward giving students an opportunity to prepare to compete. Competition is good. It makes everyone better. Students need to know that when they leave here, they are ready for the contests that await them.

If you want people to perceive you differently, sharply differently, you need to do something dramatic to deny their perceptions. This is why Nixon went to China: He changed perceptions of himself and his communist foe, redefining a relationship in the process. Or as my friend Jack Shibrowsky once said to me, “If you want to be perceived to be like a Big Time university, act like one.” Truer words were never spoken.

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4 thoughts on “Nixon Went to China

  1. I came from Valencia, where they are going to be experiencing a similar problem now that they are number one in the country for colleges (Aspen Award). It was combination of individual initiative and my family culture acting as the driving forces to seek out the knowledge to prepare for UCF and now for the workforce. My biggest question is how much communication is there between UCF and the feeder colleges about course rigor and expectations? Is the communication measured?

    I think of Valencia/other colleges as a vendors or subcontractors, where UCF needs to dictate the terms for quality control. This would require panel meetings from professors of both parties because they are the implementers and first responders. When at Valencia there were only a couple of professors who had an active understanding of the coursework at UCF and those were the professors who taught at both institutions. Ultimately with any product/service the individual parts are not held accountable for failure, the last one stamping their name in the final good is held liable. What is UCF going to do to protect and grow its brand equity?

    • *It was a combination of individual initiative and my family culture acting as the driving forces to seek out knowledge that prepared for UCF and now for the workforce.

    • Excellent points Andrew:

      As I understand it so far, it is in part a quality control issue: the rigor is simply not the same and many, not all, transfer students have a hard time adjusting to UCF. Frankly this is not easy to solve. Communication of standards and examination of syllabi might help, but ultimately this comes down to individual faculty: the expectations they place on students, the exams they give and the grades they distribute. To monitor all of this might cost as much as teaching the courses ourselves.

      What we do control is what we expect of students when they arrive at UCF: triage for those who are under-prepared, high standards for engagement and learning, and meaningful assessment that gives good developmental feedback and honestly sorts students by their degree of performance.

  2. As an undergrad COBA alum and current MBA student nearing the end of my student status at UCF, maybe not based on PhD opportunities, I am excited for you and what you are set to accomplish both short and long term.

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