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Spring 2003
Going After the Best
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COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE

By Roberta G. Wax

UCLA IS NOT THE ONLY SCHOOL feeling the burden of managing thinning resources and greater competition for the best students and faculty. Universities nationwide are finding they need to develop strategies to better compete.

Savvy schools are doing so by improving faculty packages and perks, targeting specific resources, developing an educational niche and building a brand name, updating technology, working with private industry, soliciting private donors and making the most of the resources they have.

“Competition among universities has become steadily more intense and severe,” says Frank Newman, professor of public policy at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and director of The Futures Project, which recently issued a report on the growing competition among colleges and universities, even taking into account for-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix.

State universities, Newman says, need to have a strong focus, a clear mission and a strategy on how to get there. “You can’t just say you will be a great research university. You have to have a clear idea who you are and what your goal is.”

John Immerwahr, associate vice president for academic affairs at Villanova University in Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the New York-based Public Agenda research and citizen-education group who authored The Futures Project report, says that university presidents are “intensely concerned about growing competition across a wide spectrum of areas, including recruitment of faculty, students and research funding.”

They also compete aggressively for ratings, including the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings. “A school such as UCLA would be in frequent and direct competition with all the prestige institutions in the country. The location of the competitor is irrelevant since at this level they are competing on a national level,” says Immerwahr.

Competition among schools is nothing new, adds Paul N. Courant, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan. “Every university in the country wants to have the best, to be the best. (But) it’s all very friendly. We’re all colleagues.”

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