by Mark Rosenbaum, University of South Carolina.
Most service researchers focus on contributing their curiosity, knowledge, and insights to the publication process, to their classroom experiences, and to service endeavors (e.g., performing journal reviews, serving on department committees, operating research centers). Further, nearly all academicians train to enter a profession that permits them to focus on their research, teaching, and service through the duration of their careers. Other academicians opt to leave this research path to enter into higher-education administration, as Department Chairs or Deans, in which they attempt to establish the strategic direction of their departments, or colleges, while working closely with university Provosts, Presidents, Donors, Parents and so forth. Indeed, as a newly appointed Chair of Retailing at the University of South Carolina I was charged with the mission of establishing a strategic direction for my department, given that education is on the brink, or perhaps, the verge, to be less daunting, of major changes.
As a Department Chair, I have the pleasure, as well as challenge, of meeting several parents whom assume a key role in the decision-making process of our future students. Despite parents coming from a myriad of socio-economic backgrounds, their questions to me are essentially the same. Will my child get a job after they graduate from your program? What kind of job will my son/daughter qualify for when they graduate from your program? Given the expense of the program, where is the value? Of all the questions that I receive from parents, the most challenging concerns value. How do I justify the value of my Retailing program or of the UofSC in general? How do we create value in our service-focused program?
When I queried my faculty as to the value that they create with students, most reply that they bring theory to the classroom. Perhaps, faculty members, who teach at leading research institutions and focus solely on teaching doctoral students, are charged with the mission of brining theory to their classroom endeavors. Yet, parents are not convinced in the value proposition inherent in theory; instead, they want to see value in terms of skills. Parents are sending their children to retailing/business programs to learn valuable skills that will result in gainful employment. Further, parents interpret gainful employment as meaning that their children will be employed, and able to afford their own insurance, by the time that they reach 26 years (i.e., parental coverage for dependents ceases when a child reaches 26 years). Lastly, for faculty who believe that their primary role is to deliver value to students by lecture are often dumbfounded when I inquire as to how their value exceeds that offered by universities that have placed their lectures on edx (www.edx.org) for free. Theoretical knowledge, per se, has become a commodity item, via sites such as edx or Coursera, and now priced in the marketplace near zero.
Other faculty tell me that they create value by engaging in research and in publishing research. I firmly agree that researchers often bring their knowledge to the classroom and to executive education. Yet, outside of university constituents, the perceived value of published articles is essentially null. Publications are essential in the value promotion process; they influence rankings, which attract students, parents, and help to engage alumni and donors. Yet, once students and parents arrive for a campus attention turns to WIFM (what’s in it for me) quite quickly, which means, future employment.
Faculty also tell me that the activities that they engage in, such as the creation of lecture material, typically the sacrosanct PowerPoint presentation, is a source of value. Imagine the bewilderment that I would receive from parents, employers, and alumni when I tell them that our value proposition involves the creation and transfer of knowledge via PowerPoint slides. Most lecture material can be found at Slideshare.net or at YouTube; thus, the value inherent in the creation of lecture material is questionable. Further, in terms of experiences, students no longer find value sitting in lecture halls, or classrooms, as passive listeners of theoretical frameworks. Faculty are competing against competing stimuli for students’ attention; most notably, the pressing need to remain current on social media, with students actively weighing the value of passive listening in a lecture with active engagement in a Snapchat conversation.
Faculty tell me that they offer students value by providing them with group-based simulations and group-base case studies that teach students problem-based learning. Here is the truth regarding group-based projects; they are not a unified project of equal contributions. The idea that students learn by working with other students, especially at an undergraduate level, is often far-fetched, if not entirely folly, as a handful of group members actually do the required work. Experiential learning occurs by students working on real world consulting projects for clients in which options are unknown, unlike fixed-outcome simulations, or employed on practicums or internships that require them to immerse themselves in novel problems that occur in business practice.
Finally, students question the value of textbooks and many refrain from purchasing required textbooks despite their realization that this decision will result in them receiving a lower than expected grade. Let us consider the value of a textbook, or for that matter written material. For service academicians teaching digital marketing, the printed textbook is no longer an option because the changes in digital technology, and social media, and in a constant state of flux. Surely, printed material regarding marketing with Google in 2018 will be outdated in less than a year (e.g., screen shots, new dashboards, etc.). At one time, marketing academicians could wait five years for knowledge to move from their keyboards to printed text; however, this time delay in nearly impossible for many topics; namely, digital/social media marketing.
Although these realities are challenging, and place education, including service education, on the verge of change, departments can still create value for stakeholders in creative manners. One of my first initiatives was to establish partnerships with key organizations involved in digital marketing, including Wix, Keyhole, Salesforce, JDA, Shopify and 3DCart. In these relationships, our corporate partners create the content material for our students; thus, eliminating the need for faculty to create PowerPoint or for having students purchase outdated textbooks. I encourage anyone to read and to use the Wix daily blog or to e-commerce materials from either Shopify or 3DCart in their digital marketing courses; they are timely, accurate, and free—the value proposition is evident.
In addition to establishing relationships with key technology partners, I specifically looked for partners that offered students opportunities for third-party certification. In fact, the UofSC is currently working with Wix and Keyhole to develop student certification curriculum. Consider my department’s value proposition now—certifications in e-commerce, social media monitoring, JDA, Salesforce—in addition to a respected research institution. Both partners and students now see value in a skillset that is demanded by employers and that helps them attain meaningful employment after graduation. As a side note, many parents search sites such as Indeed.com during my orientation presentations to verify employment opportunities. They leave my presentations with a smile; after all, value in evident.
Rather than create value via passive lectures, faculty now create value by being mentors and coaches that move students along career pathways. Faculty becomes experts in technology and they share this expertise with students and executives via classroom, executive learning, or online venues. Value is now inherent in meaningful classroom experiences that focus on skill-based learning and problem solving through technology.
Education is on the verge of change. Stakeholders are requiring educational institutions to justify the value of higher educations, and indeed, parents are demanding us to justify the value of a college education. Online applications, such as edX and Coursera, have permanently altered the way that our stakeholders view the value of educational content. Further, the global onslaught on online programs will further erode the ability of institutions to charge price premiums. We have to find new ways to create value in higher education and to justify an existence that many of us have taken for granted.
Mark Scott Rosenbaum
is a Fullbrighter and Department Chair and Professor at the University of South Carolina.