build its competitive niche, for example, Michigan determined that
it, much like UCLA, would be “a place where it is easy to
do interdisciplinary and collaborative work,” Courant says.
“Maintaining that identity and seeking people who enjoy those
types of collaborations is part of our strategy.”
also need to figure out what they don’t want to be. “Are
there students you won’t deal with?” asks Newman, past
president of University of Rhode Island. “Will you be a global
institution? Are you willing to put resources behind that kind of
HAVE TO REASSESS WHAT YOU’RE OFFERING AND INVEST ENOUGH MONEY
IN THINGS YOU WANT TO BE GOOD AT, AND STOP INVESTING IN THINGS YOU
DON’T CARE ABOUT,” WHICH COULD MEAN CUTTING PROGRAMS,
SOMETHING MANY INSTITUTIONS ARE LOATH TO DO.
Gates, an economist at RAND who has written about the competition
for prestige in higher education, agrees that a strong focus can
help a university target its resources to build “centers of
excellence.” Focusing on one area of strength, such as biology
or the humanities, “makes the best use of resources.”
says student quality, research funding and sports are three prestige-building
areas that help schools stay in the top tier or go higher. A strong
sports program, some believe, increases a school’s visibility
and helps raise alumni money. Others think that selecting students
with the highest GPAs and test scores raises prestige. And still
others go for research funding, although that may actually have
indirect costs to the university.
for faculty is also more “market-driven” today and universities
may need to dangle higher wages or better perks when recruiting
in highly competitive areas.
Public universities are also looking more and more to private donors,
placing more emphasis on major sources of funding, including private
gifts, grants and non-resident recruiting,” says Kevin Lee,
marketing director for university communications at the University
of Colorado, Boulder, where a major fund-raising campaign is under
receives $360 million a year from the state and relies more and
more on tuition and private giving for additional funds, says Courant.
They also manage resources with small economies: turning off lights,
dialing down thermostats, eliminating under-attended courses, buying
prudently, etc., while maintaining “a high-quality institution.”