Archive for January, 2011

In the last several posts I have been discussing the consequences of state budget problems.  After spending some time listening to debate in Austin last week, I concluded that the way the Texas Tuition Equalization Grant (TEG) originally was enacted is a great example of bi-partisan statesmanship.

Enacted more than 30 years ago this grant was based on a fundamental American idea…a strong dual system of higher education. Early colleges were all private, and when the the public system evolved the concept of preserving a strong dual system became basic to our democracy.

Preserving that dual system is what the TEG is all about. It originally was seen as bi-partisan and non-political. This was so because it both stengthened a diverse group of large and small private colleges while it was designed to save the taxpayer money.

The basic idea was: If a modest grant enabled a student with financial need to fill a space in a private college, and if that grant was less in amount than it would cost the taxpayer if that student enrolled in a public university, then such a grant would actually save the taxpayer and the state money.

As explained in a previous post, today the TEG actually saves Texas taxpayers around $4,000 for each student that chooses the grant over enrollment in a public university.

However, this 30-year benefit to the taxpayer can actually fall victim to the partsian ideology that is polarizing our legislature today. Maybe one day we will return to the time when bi-partisan statesmanship was possible, and America will be made whole again.

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Is bipartisanship possible in this day of polarized communication? These are indeed challenging times for those in the world of professional political strategic communication.

It seems that being a Democrat means that you believe in strong government, a growing middle class, worker welfare, help for the disadvantaged, and some regulation of big business.  It seems that being a Republican means you are pro-business, support a strong military, favor free enterprise, believe in little or no regulation, and think that less government is better.

In my way of thinking, bipartisanship does not begin with political ideology, but rather with the desire to solve social and economic problems. It accepts some  compromise in order to move forward, and acknowledges that every step forward will require adjustments along the way. It also accepts that some decisions could very well be temporary  and are likely to be significantly altered later on.

In my international travels I often encounter what I refer to as “the idea of America as seen from abroad.” It comes through to me this way: America stands for individual freedom, but not the right to infringe on someone else’s.  It imagines a government that will defend the US, regulate corporate greed, take care of those who can’t make it on their own…but is not a huge wasteful bureaucracy.

The reality in the US today is that the professional political communication strategist specializes in advancing either the Democratic Party’s ideology, the Republican Party’s ideology, or a bipartisan problem- solving strategy.  The latter exercise begins with brainstorming the major issues, putting them in priority order, developing a practical strategic and tactical plan for taking steps forward, and then evaluating and adjusting from there.

Some call this bipartisan approach to problem-solving “statesmanship.” I could not agree more, and it is missing all to often in our political discourse today. I hope and pray we will all come to our senses very soon.

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It looks like I will be spending a lot of time in Austin this spring. As with most states, Texas is facing a major budget deficit. The word is that everything is fair game to be cut, including education. I work for a private institution, but even so, a state-funded financial aid program helps over 1,300 college-age Texan attend TCU.

How does one develop a communication strategy for this kind of situation?  Do you sound an alarm about how devastating a worst case scenario can be for these students and your institution? Or, is there a better approach?

I have faced financial crises on many levels in the past.  Sometimes it was a potential enrollment drop. Other times it was an anticipated institutional budget short-fall. More recently is was concerns about the potential impact of a declining economy on endowments.

Each time, even though each situation had its differences, what they all had in common was that the primary strategic message had to be: This institution is ready and able to manage the situation successfully, and it will be transparent about developments as the situation unfolds.

It is also critically important to demonstrate through these times that the institution’s leadership is talented and self-confident about staying the course. In other words, positive brand messaging becomes more important than ever.

In the case of what I will face in Austin, each student that enrolls in a public institution costs the taxpayer more than $7,500. With the Texas Tuition Equalization Grant (TEG), the taxpayer pays only $3,500 to help a student attend a private institution…saving more than $4,000 with each enrollment. Plus, it gives these students a choice, and helps maintain more financially-diverse student bodies in the private sector. In total, this program enables 30,400 Texas families with financial need to attend more than 35 private colleges, many with available spaces. This is a true win-win situation.

Because this program actually saves money for Texans, we will press ahead, asserting that we are confident that the state will continue to fund this program adequately. And along with this message, will be one that TCU’s leadership and best academic talent stands ready to be part of the solution.

Lesson learned: In any time of financial concern, be as transparent as you can, but also enhance the communication of your positive brand identity, and make sure that what ultimately comes though is that your institution has the talent and strength to continue moving a head.

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Weather permitting, this week I will attend the second meeting of the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Blue Ribbon Panel on Global Engagement. 

Nineteen heads of universities from around the world will gather again in Washington to discuss the complicated implications of the internationalization of higher education. I must confess, I have been thinking about this issue nonstop.

I have previously discussed how I believe in the months ahead we are going to witness rapid change in our industry. The longer I study the situation, the more clearly I see it. We definitely will feel dramatic shifts in our industry from the content and organization of the subject matter we teach, to where that teaching will take place, to the migration patterns of students and faculty, to how new technology will bring a virtual dimension to the total international experience, to where and how our graduates will find careers, to how new media will change the way this worldwide story is told, to how our institutions are marketed, and more.

I have argued in earlier writings that as a consequence of the changing role of governments and sources of funding around the world, the field of university advancement will have new prominence in administrations everywhere. I now believe that the cutting edge expertise held by most modern advancement practitioners will be called upon to influence not just how institutional marketing and fundraising are accomplished, but to help shape the entire “look” of a whole new kind of global university.

A new day always requires new visionary leadership. So I now foresee the coming of a whole new breed of international advancement and educational entrepreneur. Here are just two of the questions that have been dominating my thinking:

1. Where will we find, or how will we develop, this new breed of leader for advancement and institutions… one that has international experience, resource development expertise, new media savvy, and the relentless drive and courage necessary to pioneer the way?

2. How can we build intelligent innovation and creativity into the ongoing challenge of advancing and leading institutions?  Creativity is now an area of academic study. Techniques for developing it in managers are being pioneered in many cutting edge industries. As we did a few years ago with integrated marketing, how can we adapt what these other entrepreneurs are learning to the visioning and planning of an internationalized academy?

The week ahead promises to enrich my thinking about these issues, I know. But, to draw conclusions too soon from ACE’s Blue Ribbon Panel will be premature. For that, we all will have to await its’ final report later in the academic year.

In the meantime, I will be sharing my evolving thoughts with you.  Fasten  your seatbelts, we are taking off! I can’t think of a more exciting time to be a part of higher education.

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Of course, I would be thinking about football again. Who wouldn’t?  TCU just won the Rose Bowl, and questions abound about what this means for a high quality academic institution!

Some call this historic contest “the granddaddy of them all!”  In fact, the day after the game a New York Times article declared that with  this victory TCU “solidified its standing as one of the elite programs in all of college football.”

New visibility is happening nationwide, and that is truly exciting.  But this win is also a big challenge to keep it all in perspective. The real benefit is that such a victory definitely opens the door for more communication. But it therefore becomes critically important that all areas of the institution are prepared  to walk through that door and tell the institution’s unique and compelling academic story.

For all this to happen effectively, the athletic program must stay “integrated” with the insitution as a whole. This means that its management and coaching staff must reflect the leadership style and quality of the institution. Its’ brand identity and design must also convey that this is one institution, not two. An athletic program absolutely must not “look” and function like a separate organization. 

Athletic staff should promote campus and academic programs at games, and university marketing people should incorporate the vitality and benefits of college athletics into academic and campus materials.  Also, behaviors of fans should match the cultural values of the institution, since realistic lessons about winning and losing are important for everyone. The bottom line is that the ability of athletics to bring vitality to the total campus experience can be extremely positive, but making it happen is an integrated, campus-wide enterprise.  

Too often, however, althetic programs lose perspective. They operate as separate organizations. In fact, one college president once told me he didn’t even want his athletic program to be associated with his institution! In my way of thinking, there is no way to justify the existence of such a program.

This win was incredibly positive for TCU, there is no doubt about it. The visibiity and name recognition we are enjoying is beyond imagination.  But it is more clear to me than ever that academic, ethical, and financial integrity must be preserved. Only then will everyone continue to benefit.

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