Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Preview of JIMC essay

For 20 years the Journal of Integrated Marketing Communications has been the policy, strategy and tactics voice of the Medill School’s Department of Integrated Marketing Communications. The JIMC has been supported by thousands of hours of volunteer time by IMC students and nearly 200 authors to produce its annual content. It has also been supported by more than 500 graduate students who raised more than a quarter of million dollars to fund 90% of the cost of the Journal’s publication. Over the last two decades, the distribution and readership have grown to a total of nearly eighty thousand.

IMC faculty are strengthening the communications standards of graduate (and now undergraduate) IMC education at Northwestern. The core graduate classes such as marketing are requiring that the graduate student be as strong in rigorous research methods (statistically analytical as well as ethnographically precise) as they are in persuasively communicating the results or interpretation of the research.

With this celebration comes a warning that the cost of graduate professional education may be exceeding its value and benefit to some students. My concern is not as a naysayer but as a professor concerned that the rapidly increasing tuition and total costs of graduate education are rapidly exceeding the value to the student of earning an advanced degree in management, journalism, law, education, IMC and other fields.

Of course the decision of the value of earning an advanced degree belongs to the student - not to the school. However, some schools need to reexamine the marginal costs of earning a degree from their programs. A recent article in The Economist (October 17th 2009) noted that, for the elite school MBA, “(t)he long term benefits sound substantial…But the short-term costs are also weighty.” The Economist concludes that “on balance, the benefits probably outweigh the cost, particularly in straitened times”. What The Economist surprisingly missed is even a rudimentary effort to help a student decision-maker to calculate the short-term and lifetime costs and benefits of an advanced degree. Ironically,the same skills to calculate the ROI are taught to our IMC students and many MBA students. However the corporate teaching does not offer a personal tool or widget for a student to “run the numbers”. I will quote a new graduate professional student from a midwestern public school that I spoke with recently. After I asked him if he had calculated the cost and value of his degree, he responded, “No, I assumed that a prestigious university and school would not offer a degree that was not economically viable”. His comment cut to the quick.

We should be terribly concerned for the future of colleges and universities that are either private or “pubvate” (historically public state universities embarrassingly nearly unfunded by state taxpayer dollars). The cost of education at a 6% increase for many years for my grandchildren or your children may well exceed any rational logic of earning an advanced degree or, even more frighteningly, an undergraduate degree. The necessary formula for a student to make an informed decision is on this blog as a “return-on-investment calculator. Of course educators and economists have long demonstrated the long-term value of graduate education. However, I don’t believe these generalized models are specific enough to permit a student to estimate the actual and expected costs for their decision. My colleague Jim Carey and I offer the interactive tool with the hope that students will find it useful to make a specific decision about a full-time or part-time advanced degree.

My confidence in the next generation is often stronger than my confidence in my own generation of educators and leaders who seem so dutifully wedded to the past trappings of higher education. We seem to still see the Gothic towers, large, tiered lecture halls, book driven libraries, full-time degrees, country club campuses, entertainment, upscale living units, restaurants and super sports for alumni as core purposes of an antiquated educational model.

I should probably leave my concerns to the next generation of university students, leaders and faculty in hopes that they will consider more part-time degrees, challenging digital distance learning and other learning and delivery systems. However, I don’t want to be worrying about this topic when I author the publisher’s essay for the JIMC’s 40th anniversary edition. Finally, for 2009 and 2010, please follow my best advice: Hire my students!

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