Can higher education marketing pros marry non and for-profits?

In 2005, Jerome C. Weber wrote a journal piece entitled “Why Can’t Colleges and Universities Be Run More like Business?”

The public outcry colleges sometimes receive when they are perceived as a business is one answer to Weber’s question.

Take Thunderbird School of Global Management, who chose to partner with a for-profit in an attempt to get out of the red.

“With its 2012 fiscal budget $4 million in the red, the Thunderbird School of Global Management has agreed to grasp a sorely needed lifeline.

“The decision has kicked up a storm of controversy. At least two board members have resigned in protest and nearly 2,000 of the school’s alumni have signed a petition contending that its agreement with Laureate Education Inc. would “cheapen the value of the [Thunderbird] degree.

“’This is the end of Thunderbird as we have known it,’ wrote Merle Hinrich, a director and alumnus, in his resignation letter.”

But Andrew P. Kelly for The Atlantic proposes that joining the strengths from both nonprofits (think reputation and curriculum) and for-profits (mastery of adult-learner model, experience with non-traditional students and accelerated program times) is a winning combination.

“For many for-profit colleges, the key to long-term profitability could be a move away from directly educating students to providing other institutions with their proprietary expertise in online learning and program design.

Of course, much of any university’s success comes down to how said institution is perceived by the public and its potential students. That’s where higher education marketing comes in.

“The key is to show that the change will maintain the mission, or expand on the mission, and doing it in a way that directly correlates with what the institution has been,” according to Inside Higher Ed.

Higher education marketing strategists must work in concert with curriculum developers, administrators and the educators themselves to deliver a message of change that is positive for both students and the institution.

After all, students want a diploma not a receipt.