There are two very exciting months for most American universities—April and September. April is when universities have sent out letters of acceptance to high school seniors and they and their families are making life-changing decisions about the future. September is when these new students actually arrive.
This first blog is about April, about spring, and about facing forward.
Spring means many things, but primarily it is about hope, looking toward the future, and promises of new growth. For a 17-year-old it is that, plus it is validation for all the work done in preparation of acceptance into the college or university of his or her dreams. The future seems unlimited.
For the universities, this particular April is about the Class of 2015, the projected graduation year of approximately 1 million students who have those letters in hand (of course some will finish early, many others late). They are all making a long-term strategic “luxury brand” purchase, which in resource cost is second only to a home purchase.
With their parents or by themselves, they are analyzing financial aid packages, taking tours of dormitories and rock-climbing walls, and hopefully spending a few days at something called an “Open House” to hear from deans, faculties, and existing students about how wonderful and special each particular program is compared to the competition. Universities are in full-out sales mode.
But underlying all of this selling and buying is the real reason students go to a specific college: its curriculum. April is the month when next year’s courses are being finalized and current students are enrolling for classes in the Fall semester, for it is the defining and refining of a curriculum that is the most important work of a university. What few of the parents and almost none of the students think about is how far into the future university administrators and faculty members need to look to prepare for this new class.
The Class of 2015 is arriving in just four months yet we have to be ready to teach them the skills they will need in four years, not now in 2011. When they start to move into their first dorm room this September, their new college will be contractually and morally obligated to offer them a well-conceived course of study leading to graduation in May 2015.
Contrast that to this: as a lodging business leader you are asked to create an annual budget, a three-year projected budget, and possibly a five-year strategic plan. But almost all of the decisions you will make for the next four months will actually be tactical, not strategic. Unless you have the direct responsibility to build, purchase or renovate a hotel, your daily decisions will have impact mostly on the short- to near-term. You can raise and lower rates through your revenue management system on a daily basis, you schedule staff weekly or maybe monthly, and you match your marketing to the seasonality of the local environment. While you are always thinking of the future, it is unlikely that anyone will hold you to a decision you make today with an outcome four years from now. May 2015, while on the planning horizon, probably seems like a very long time from now.
But it is April 2011 and a new class of university freshmen is being formed all across the country. They are psyching themselves up in preparation for next September when they will arrive on campus with the full range of hopes and fears that comes from a new beginning. In reality these young people are making a long-term decision to trust an institution to give them an education that will transform them into fully functioning adults when they leave in 2015.
It is my job as a dean to work with faculty members to define a curriculum to meet those future expectations. So this week, while the Class of 2015 is deciding where they will enroll in September, we are deciding what the curriculum of 2015 should be when they leave in May four years from now. That’s also when they will become your new managers.
April is a very exciting month at a university.