Reinvention Without Compromise?

The New York Times recently ran an article about Catholic primary and secondary schools “rebranding” successfully. So, how does a Catholic school become anything other than a Catholic school? The article highlighted St. Stephen of Hungary on the Upper East Side of Manhattan as a pointed example of how a parochial school can honor tradition and also start anew.

Once facing the plight of many other Catholic schools (dropped enrollment and reduced funding – sound familiar?), St. Stephen has re-imagined the role it can and does play in the education of young New Yorkers. To be sure, the school is still Catholic and rife with prayer and crucifixes; however, St. Stephen now offers the bells and whistles of an independent (i.e., private) school education at a lower price-point. At one-quarter of the tuition of an independent school education, St. Stephen’s students benefit from low student-teacher ratios, collaborative learning environments, violin lessons, iPads in classrooms, and faith-based value systems.  As St. Stephen, Reverend Angelo Gambatese explains “Our competition or our standard isn’t another good Catholic school…[our competition is] the best independent schools in Manhattan.”

Reverend Gambatese’s sentiment, coupled with the marketability of the revitalized St. Stephen, seems to be a lesson worth exploring. St. Stephen suggests successful marketability in education is as simple as understanding and honoring your competition. Instead of playing the martyr (no pun intended), the administrators at St. Stephen took action. They looked carefully at where prospective students (or, at least, desirable prospective students who are less likely to need financial assistance) were choosing to enroll and learned what drove that choice; the school also brought fresh talent into administrative positions. Now, St. Stephen has many accomplishments to boast, such as the ability to hire more full-time faculty members and increase its fundraising yield exponentially. In short, by understanding and, to some degree, emulating its competition, St. Stephen can stay in business.

There are tradeoffs: St. Stephen’s student body has grown less diverse. While there are several viable explanations for why this might be, it is a reminder that business savvy and marketability are not inherently synonymous with today’s buzzwords in education like access and inclusion.

Caveats aside, can this model apply to higher education? Of course, colleges and universities are larger—and ostensibly less nimble—than a K-8 school such as St. Stephen. At the same time, who’s to stop a college from identifying its greatest competition and incorporating some of the competition’s practices into their own?  Not only could these efforts breathe life into stale programming but they also represent a fundamental business strategy that may have gotten lost in the shuffle of accreditation, tenure and budget cuts.

Building New Revenue Through Technology Transfer at Schools of Education

Today’s EdWeek highlights the recent infusion of venture capital into the education sector, and profiles the story of the development of a research-based literacy tool created by faculty at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development into a start-up company called Early Learning Labs, launched this month:

Universities Generate Ideas, Support for K-12 Startup Companies (EdWeek, May 15, 2012)

Eduventures research suggests that opportunity exists for schools and colleges of education to develop research-based tools and products into profit through similar means.  In June 2011, Eduventures released the report Understanding and Identifying Innovative and Entrepreneurial Business Models for Schools of Education, which outlined several methods for Deans and SOE leaders to consider to build revenue outside of tuition dollars, including developing marketable products and/or partnering with for-profit companies to do so.  These partnerships are common across schools of business, engineering, or medicine, but are still rare among schools of education.  However, as the “education industry” grows, so does the opportunity for revenue through these means for universities.

In addition to the University of Minnesota example profiled by EdWeek in the article cited above, a few examples of this have surfaced through Eduventures relationships with institutions and organizations across the country.  For example, Stanford University and Pearson have partnered to develop and market new performance assessment measures for schools of education, namely, the “TPA” which is currently being piloted in several states.  In addition, 2Tor partnered with USC to successfully co-develop and co-market USC’s fast growing online MAT program that leads to initial teacher certification.

What potential might exist to build revenue through similar “technology transfer” at your school/college of education?  Ask yourself these questions as you consider the scholarly work that your faculty are currently engaging in – there could be more opportunity than you think.  Also, take the time to talk with fellow Deans and leaders at your university in business, engineering, or medicine to learn more about how they have developed revenue via these means in the past.

Eduventures members of the Schools of Education Learning Collaborative can download the full report, Understanding and Identifying Innovative and Entrepreneurial Business Models for Schools of Education, by clicking here.