Saturday, February 14, 2009

Edelman Trust Barometer and the Future of Universities

This week in Chicago the John Edelman of Edelman Worldwide presented with colleagues the annual Trust Barometer. The results are viewable at and The work is a valuable annual addition to how influentials think about our common institutions. Naturally, you might say, business, media, government and other institutions have declined in their trustworthiness. While academics and experts have actually risen in individual standing; I am deeply concerned that the institution of higher education and universities and colleges will suffer from dramatic losses in trust in the future. I hope to persuade Richard to add questions to test my hypothesis.

One issue that is constantly facing them is the significant increases in tuition year by year over the past two decades. A number of private universities have increased tuition by 6% each year for over a decade. While it seem impossible a simple extrapolation of that growth rate would mean that my unborn grandchildren may pay (or a trust fund I could set up) $200,000 per year rather than under $50,000 now per year for tuition. I know that such statistics defy logic and usually result in population projections of humankind standing cheek to jowl. Of course, usually disease, war and other moderating factors prevent such straight line growth. I recently faced the reality of the trend when for the summer of 2009 tuition and support for our graduate students seemed to require a $17,000 fee. This is the equivalent of an $80,000 job. If you consider the economy (shouldn't we) it seems like an impossible number. So, we have more wisely decided to offer the students for 11 weeks at much lower rates. They still offer a wide range of advanced skills in database management, statistical analysis, strong writing skills, media measurement knowledge and tools. They clearly represent the future of marketing communications including public relations, advertising, direct database marketing, marketing analytics. A number of our students (50%) are from other nations. They can be immensely productive and useful for global thinking, knowledge and planning. I digress.

While the tuition issue is crucial; other issues that may rear their ugly head include: a. discovery that public colleagues are paying a finder as a percent of tuition to Chinese businesses to send them Chinese freshmen and women. This may upset taxpayers who think their children have a right to the frosh spots. (They may forget that their state taxpayer dollars only pay for about 15% of the costs of running their "state university". In the trade we sometimes refer to these schools as "pubvates" or public private schools since they are no longer substantially supported by the states. b. a public debate from the Presidential level that all students have a right to a college education when we face such shortages of educated and trained skilled labor that universities cannot possibly provide. c. an rapidly ageing university teacher population that will be difficult to replace given pathetically low salaries in all areas but high technology and business. A counter trend will be the need for many faculty to stay beyond the age of their expected retirement due to the recent disaster of the world economy. More to come on the future of universities.