Thursday, June 05, 2008

Higher Ed. needs to find other sources of revenue

That the economy in the United States is bad at this moment, and getting worse, is pretty self-evident. Well, except to certain people in the administration and their lackeys that is. Anyhow, the point for me this time around is that I am seeing a few stories here and there about how the economy is affecting colleges and their students. For example, I posted these two stories over on my Facebook:

Now, I am not going to go on some rant about how some of this could have been prevented or handled differently. What caught my eye, in addition to the stories above, are these two other pieces about higher education posted in the Wired Campus blog:

  • First, we have the end of campus computer labs. Apparently, some colleges like North Carolina State are moving to have virtual computer labs. In plain English, they put online tools on servers, and you have to access them on your own computer or laptop. No more campus lab as we know it. This by itself raises a few concerns on my part, but I will leave them for a different post later.
  • Then they were asking if colleges should sell advertising to pay for technology. It's the idea of selling ad space on campus websites in order to pay for technology needs.
I hate to say this folks, but I think we may have a solution, and it may be selling the advertising. States pretty much are giving up left and right on funding higher education for the people. And a private college education is pretty much prohibitive unless you are a trust fund baby. Right now, on many campuses, students are charged a fee for technology. We do it here. Often, students don't even notice it since it goes in the bill along with everything else the financial aid covers. But these days, financial aid means more loans given grants and free money are also on the way down and out. So, I am wondering if students may start noticing what is on their bill a bit more. More than that, it may get to the point where colleges are just going to have to fend for themselves.

Now I am talking about the state colleges and universities, especially the small, less popular ones. Places like Harvard with their obscenely rich endowments they keep piling on to need not apply in this conversation; after all, using it to help the less fortunate is not exactly on their radar. Putting up a new building or fountain is probably more glamorous than setting up some scholarships for example. Most campuses think that way, even my own where getting a nice garden in front of the library is more important than actually putting books that are up to date inside that same library. But I am digressing. So, what could be a solution? Advertising.

Think about it folks. Most of you out there who may stop at this blog probably use the Internet regularly. You are used to seeing ads online for all sorts of sites: news, sports, the weather, so on. The ads are just there, and they make it possible for you to read The New York Times, to pick an example, mostly for free (well, you still have to pay for the Internet access somehow and a computer. It is never really free). So why not take it a step further and put ads on campus websites? On the piece about advertising above, one of the commenters said that donors naming stuff is not really the same as advertising. I say, oh really? They "donate" a lot of dough, with a lot of conditions very often, to get their name out there and remind everyone of their legacy. Sounds like advertising to me. They are paying to have their brand (i.e. themselves) be known. Like this guy. So, let us see how that would work:

  • For the campus athletics section, ads for ESPN, Gatorade, and maybe the NFL and/or the NBA, especially if your campus is big on those two sports.
  • For the library, Barnes and Noble, Borders, and similar are naturals. If the library has a cafe, well, Starbucks branding/franchising is a no brainer (personally, I prefer indie coffee, but oh well).
  • For math department, Texas Instruments calculators.
  • Let Facebook run your course management system. I mean, we are already halfway there. For example, see here.
You get the idea. You can probably find an advertiser that would be a natural for your campus department or unit. This is the kind of thing that, to be honest, I wish we did not have to think about. I wish that people would actually see the value of an education to the citizenry and fund it accordingly instead of wasting billions on wars that yield nothing other than dead soldiers and a huge debt. But at the rate we are going, I don't see the change coming, so we may as well brace ourselves for a future with more advertising. Personally, I find the idea intriguing and scary at the same time. Maybe I have seen one dystopian film too many where advertisers seem to be running everything. By the way, want an interesting look at a future where advertisers and corporations run the show? Take a look at the novel The Space Merchants. Anyhow, just a little speculating given the news, which do not look very good for higher education.

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