Benchmark This!

Latest Trends Impacting Marketing and Higher Education
from Director of UPCEA's Center for Research and Strategy, Jim Fong

[Snap Poll Results] In Pandemic Higher Ed, PCO Gets the Playing Time It Deserves

My world before the pandemic included going to sporting events, and trying my hand at fantasy football and baseball leagues.  These activities fed my inner stats nerd. During the pandemic, however, I found that what I had previously found so important to me and my mental health may not be as essential as I thought.  I realized that I placed greater focus on a routine than I did on relationships. 


Unsurprisingly, the arrival of the pandemic saw typically coveted athletic fields and buildings reduce in importance for institutions of higher education.  And the value of professional, continuing and online (PCO) education units began to rise.  When the pandemic initially struck a year ago, colleges and universities leaned heavily on outsource service providers and PCO units to rapidly support their remote instruction needs.  These outsourced service providers included online program management (OPM) companies, instructional design firms, and specialty organizations that provide similar services to many PCO units.  Regardless, the dependency on both during the pandemic is certainly clear.  A quick snap poll of 54 UPCEA member institutions found that 70% of those surveyed said that they were viewed as more valuable or much more valuable.  When asked what the PCO’s greatest challenges for 2021 are, they stated:  financial or budget issues; maintaining student enrollment and engagement; creating flexibility or a “new normal”; creating new programs; and helping students, staff and faculty return to campus.


The pandemic has greatly impacted society and the economy, and there’s no turning back.  There is also not a “new normal,” as society continues to define itself.  With the economy and the world changing, things sacred to education will also change, such as the credential, the classroom, tuition costs, and the student.  “Normal” is a standard or an expectation.  That standard was a degree earned in a classroom.  Expectations and standards for higher education cannot be set until society defines them.  As a result, innovation and adaptability will be critical until “normal” is defined.  As the great Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”  The problem for higher education is that no one knows exactly where the puck is going to be.  There are clearly signs directing us to automation and a touchless society.  But for higher education, will learning always happen with a degree and within a classroom?  The answer is likely “no” and “no,” so we may have to skate to a number of different places in a new economy and society.


See the full snap poll results here.

Jim Fong, UPCEA

Lead consultant Jim Fong, the founding director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy, has extensive background in marketing at Penn State, as well as experience in private industry. Jim brings a rich understanding of the dynamics driving today’s higher education leaders, providing research-driven strategy and positioning. Jim often presents at UPCEA’s regional and national conferences, sharing vital information with attendees.

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