The Degree in Three

Link: The Degree in Three

A New York Times Op-Ed arguing that the four-year degree is a wasteful relic that ought to be condensed to three years.  Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog talked about it, too. 

edustir being cutting-edge had this discussion back in September.

I still think this is a good idea on balance, but doing it citing the rising costs of higher education are a bad catalyst for this type of change. There’s no talk of the possibility of eroding educational quality or the fact that according to the National Center for Education Statistics 69% of college students earned their bachelor’s degree in less than five years. I guess I wonder how that number would change if we shortened the route to the degree? Would it automatically decrease over time? One would think, but I think it opens up more questions than it answers.

Broadcast rights, social media and the soul of college athletics

As recent as last fall, the Southeastern Conference announced it would ban social media from it’s stadiums. The conference reversed course after a backlash, but the thought process remains aimed at viewing social media as an adversary rather than a benefit to their bottom line.

The reason is simple. College sports leagues are making massive amounts of money selling broadcasting rights. The NCAA’s decision to expand the Division I Men’s Basketball tournament to 68 teams was driven solely by the potential of television dollars. So is all of this talk about expansion in the Big Ten and PAC-10 Conferences. 

So why have college sports been so slow to adopt social media in a big way? Look no further than the web site of your favorite college or universities. Legions of institutions funnel millions into competing on the sports field, but when it comes to developing a web presence, schools largely outsource their sites to third-party vendors who provide easy cookie cutter solutions.

College web sites are not produced by third parties, so why should their athletic presence be any different? It’s a confusing situation that owes largely to a lack of coordination between institutional marketing efforts and how they diverge from athletic marketing. Better collaboration and understanding between the two audiences would be a good starting point, but it’s only the beginning.

Institutions will employ people to sell tickets and provide marketing support, but much of that marketing support still lacks a connection to follow trends on the web. Pro sports teams and leagues are figuring it out quickly. The Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League employ a social media coordinator, even the fledgling Women’s Pro Soccer League (WPS) have embraced the medium by creating a social media guide for it’s teams and streams games via iPhone. Going abroad, the Indian Premier League, the world’s largest cricket league broadcasts all of its games on YouTube, while still raking in major dollars on television revenues.

Major League Baseball is considered a fuddy duddy when it comes to sports innovation, as the league has taken ages to adapt in ways other leagues have. But when it came to social media, MLB was the first one to truly leverage the digital space in a way that generate massive revenues for its member clubs through MLB Advanced Media. As of 2007, this editorially independent arm of the league’s 30 clubs was generating over $400 million in revenues. While a drop in the bucket relative to the other revenue streams the teams generate, it proves it’s worth in ways beyond just the intangibles.

The only way college teams and their leagues will truly begin to appreciate the power of social media will be when they discover the money to be made. While smaller leagues and institutions might feel their strategies are confined only to their markets, broader thinking might compel them to start pooling their resources to create revenue opportunities where they don’t currently exist.

Very little is stopping smaller, regional and non-scholarship institutions from broadcasting their games online. Some conferences already do. The problem? Production quality is usually poor, it can be difficult to find someone experienced enough to shoot these games and the quality of competition indicates that only the most die-hard fans and parents are going to be interested in the content. So while there might not be a market for say, Division 3 regular season basketball games; the possibility exists to partner with an existing resource to reach the fans who’ve already assembled and create a repository for highlights and other content that might be of interest rather than being burdened with the task of creating and maintaining the content and then finding an audience for it.

Where the future takes us will be driven by something more than just good ideas or technology. It’s going to come down to money and the opportunities to generate it. 

Twitter, What Is It Good For?

I ran across a Twitter policy page today that made me begin to think about my own use of the site and precisely what I use it for.

If you’ve been reading for a while (thanks!) you know that I have a complicated history with Twitter. I went from a Twitter skeptic to a person who recognized it’s value, though the latter post was mostly tongue-in-cheek because of the older one.

Lately, I’ve found it’s still useful but not in the same ways it once was. I never enjoyed Twitter solely as a means for communication, because it comes attached with a lot of the things that plague instant messenger (IM) conversations for me. Namely that the start can often be abrupt and the ending may be worse. I tend to like starts and finishes. I don’t really need definition, but I do like context. With both Twitter and IM, it can be short and pithy. Which works to some degree, but only sometimes.

Social networks have their place, but I eventually get fatigued of them and have to take a break. For all of the talk of the Zuckerberg internet hegemon in recent months, Facebook is the only one that handles this well. You need a break, you can deactivate and come back with everything intact. It’s handy for people who just decide to step away. When I finally canned my LinkedIn profile a few years back, they do send you an email saying that they have to delete your profile if you’re over a certain number of contacts; but in the email they don’t ask if you’re sure you want to delete. They just let you know when it’s deleted. I came back once more and then ditched it again, though I didn’t have that many connections and I’m back again now though I’m not actively adding people. If I get requests, I add them and if not, I don’t. 

Anyway, on this Twitter thing. These days, I’m just not using it as much. If I had to summarize what I’ve viewed Twitter as from the start, it’d go something like this:

  1. Interacting with interesting professional people who I don’t have a lot of contact with in my everyday life.
  2. Staying connected to news on a different frequency. 
  3. Maintaining a presence as proxy for communicate with people who might share my interests, but who I may never meet in person.

The overwhelming majority of my friends don’t use it, I’ve taken to mandating each student in the community college class I teach create an account (but don’t ask them to use their real names if they don’t to) because I want to demystify what seems to be one of the most misunderstood social web tools; despite the fever pitch Twitter still seems to have lots of people in stitches about how best to use it.

Personally, I find I’ve used Twitter a lot less now than I did when I worked full-time in higher ed. I feel like I have less to say and what I do have to say, might not be as relevant to the majority of my followers, but this owes to the fact that the majority of my followers are higher ed folks and I haven’t gone out of my way to diversify my follower base beyond that.

Twitter has proven to be the most useful social network for me in my professional life and those who follow trends understand it’s value extends well beyond just the professional and the personal. It’s noisier than it once was and I find it’s ubiquity a bit frustrating, but it’s value seems longer lasting. I’ll continue to use it and suspect my usage will adapt further based on what I choose to do and where I choose to do it.

What about you?

How to spin integrity in a social media world

We often think of intercollegiate athletics as a domain of wins and losses, as a locale of choices that relate only to the actions within the lines. But every once in a while, the humanity of these activities rears its head.

Grant Whybark, a golfer at St. Francis University in Illinois recently ignited a national conversation about a sporting event that few will ever care about again after it dies down off the main page of ESPN. Last week, Whybark double-bogeyed the first playoff hole in a conference tournament, enabling the other competitor, Seth Doran, to advance to the NAIA national tournament that he’d already qualified for.

There are a lot of ways to look at this story. To the sports pursuits, it’s an act of treason. They believe the only way that someone should compete at the “highest level” is to “earn their spot.” To others, it’s simply an act of sportsmanship. By enabling Seth Doran, the golfer from Olivet Nazarene to qualify for the national tournament hurt no one else. It was either miss and allow Doran to advance or play it through and if Whybark won, no one else would’ve advanced to the national tournament beyond himself.

If you’re the institution where it happened, how does this spark an institutional conversation? This is perhaps a once in a blue moon opportunity to highlight not just to highlight the integrity of your student-athletes, but a bigger platform to talk about what intercollegiate athletics are really about. You have to take that opportunity, because they don’t come along often, even if it’s inconvenient. 

It’s the end of the school year in many places, finals are happening or are already over. People are busy and it’s not always easy to find ways to coalesce around rapid topics might not be on the radar. But I submit a few possibilities of how you could spin this for your own benefit:

  1. Your student athlete was highlighted on a national radio show for his integrity. Why not post a link to the interview? If he’s coached before, great. But this is an opportunity to show what integrity yields. A follow-up story on your web site about the act, quotes from a few key people and a larger point about how it’s a reflection of the types of students who attend your institutions and what your core values are.
  2. Find a way to partner with the other institution and share the small window. The real question for many, is how does the other student feel? I mean, does he feel like he backed into a national tournament appearance? Maybe an interview of both together, snap a photo and put it on both institution’s web sites. The short Q&A could just encompass shared values, the camaraderie of competition and understanding the bigger picture. Both of these schools are religious schools, a key selling point for parents who want their children to get more than just a liberal education, but also a set of values that will serve them for life.

The fifteen seconds of fame won’t last long. But it’s likely to boost traffic and send people wondering exactly what your school is about, why it’s there and what sort of people are there. It’s just part of a bigger point of making sure that your web presence speaks to the culture, climate and character of your students, alumni, faculty and staff. You can’t predict when your Hollywood minute will come, but when it does, you need to make sure you’ve put your best face on. 

What’s your take? Am I overstating the value of this spontaneous media opportunity? What suggestions would you have for handling something like this or stories that you can share about similar situations?