The Importance of Place

My friends over at @UCFKnights (i.e., athletics) asked me to write about UCF’s location in Orlando and the advantages of being near a metropolitan area for UCF business students.

This is an excellent topic. My sense is that place is an underappreciated factor in student choice about where to go to school. It is also an underappreciated source of competitive advantage for educational institutions trying to differentiate themselves in the market.

It should come as no surprise that most of the top business schools are located in major metropolitan areas (Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles). It is easier to study business and build relationships with major employers if you are near them. You wouldn’t expect to find the top university for studying the Arctic in Hawaii or the best oceanography program to be in Kansas would you? Proximity also makes it easier for those companies to participate in the school’s programs (e.g., guest speakers, provide co-curricular opportunities) and for the school to develop opportunities on the employer’s site (e.g., internships, co-op programs, field trips).

So in thinking about the advantages of being in Orlando and attending UCF, ask yourself what types of companies dominate the local economy? And, what types of industries are especially unique to Orlando? Hospitality, the Attractions (Disney, SeaWorld, Universal), Space (i.e., NASA), Defense, and simulation and training immediately come to mind. Changes coming with the widening of the Panama Canal may add transportation and logistics to that list. It shouldn’t surprise you that the College of Business has way more alums working with these employers than we do with say car manufacturers, investment banks, or pharmaceutical companies. A linkedIn search of our alums reveals that the College of Business’ top five private sector employers are: (1) Lockheed Martin, (2) Sun Trust, (3) Harris Corporation, (4) Disney, and (5) Siemens. (See why I harp on knowing how to talk to engineers.).

None of this proximity to business matters unless you and your university are willing to engage them. UCF does a great job of this. We really are America’s leading partnership university. As a student this means your university can help get you in a local door. But don’t expect this to be handed to you. Competition for these opportunities is intense. Employers will want those applicants who demonstrate a willingness to be proactive, plan and stand-out from the crowd. If instead you want to go to a university where you can hide, or hope you will be “discovered” while at the bar, there is no advantage in proximity: invisibility yields the same results everywhere.

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