Reputation Matters and is Earned Never Given

Brand-Strategy-And-ReputationUniversity reputation determines whether or not students want to study there. The Independent of the United Kingdom conducted a survey of college graduates in Europe, and 62% said it was important for a university to be well-known to create better employment opportunities. In that same survey one student in three said that employability was more important than the quality of the teaching. It’s likely that recent graduates may not see the interdependence of true teaching quality and employment potential. Eventually they do. Findings in the U.S. are very similar. However, in the U.K. survey, and probably due to the lower cost of university attendance for students, only 8% of those queried thought cost was an important variable.

Reputation is perceived differently by students in different settings. International students who may have a more distant familiarity with a particular university tend to rely heavily on rankings according to the Times Higher Education Supplement.  As students move up the educational ladder to graduate study, reputation as demonstrated by rankings becomes more important. In this same study, The Knowledge Partnership shows students were sheepishly unable to talk about what it was that attracted them other than the rankings…too many eggs in the basket holding reputations’ superficiality.

Reputation of online universities is less determined by rankings systems and more by job placement rates for graduates. An interesting mix of schools leads the reputation race in job placement for online study: Bentley University, the University of Pennsylvania, Babson College, Dickinson State University, and in first-place, Syracuse University. Central in creating these reputational perceptions based on finding work is the near 100% placement rate of graduates. However, to be fair it’s essential to recognize that most people who attend online programs already have a job and seek advancement opportunity. This helps explain why 98% is the low-end of the employment scale at Bentley University. Syracuse University boasts 100% of the graduates from its online programs — 3,039 in all — have full-time jobs six months after graduation. Remarkable.

Reputation impacts faculty. Real or perceived differences in the quality of faculty have reputation building power. Twenty-five percent of the national research universities produce 75% of all tenure-track faculty members, according to Science Advances. Top-tier institutions don’t always produce outstanding academic performers: I know too many people from too many institutions. Meritocracies are not divorced from squishier understandings of social status and prestige — royalty’s realm. The legitimate lure of aspiring faculty to study at prestigious institutions is that they might be hired by similar institutions. The truth is the oversupply of PhD’s assures slippage to institutions, rightly or wrongly, perceived to be “lesser.” A Robert Oprisko study published by Georgetown Public Policy Review shows that of 3,709 political science professors employed by PhD degree granting institutions, 50% graduated from only 11 universities. The skewness is driven by the two-way street of reputational power: Few universities are deemed worthy to attend, and few are deemed worthy to hire from, rightly or wrongly.

Reputation is also impacted by cost of study. Forbes  records Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science bachelor’s degree starting salaries at $79,551. It occupies the top post in their study. Closing out the top 10 is Georgia Tech with the average engineering graduate earning $60,000 per year. For most students and families, the value of the job attained plays a significant role in college selection. Likewise amongst colleges these statistics are frequently downplayed, but starting salaries for graduates are of utmost concern because of the contribution they make to an institutional reputation.

Within various institutions, earning abilities affect program reputations. Undergraduates in education report average starting salaries at $32,614, while those in computer science report peg starting salaries at $65,820 according to NerdWallet. The same study suggests that graduates from elite prestigious universities start higher than those from less well known institutions.

Reputation is also linked to location. I recently wrote on the potential closing of Sweet Briar College located in rural Virginia. James F Jones, former president, said in response to enrollment challenges, “We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks.” Evidently a bridge too far. A Washington Post assessment suggests that colleges in densely populated settings provide greater opportunities for apprenticeships, attractiveness as places to live after graduation, and enhanced employment opportunities. A review of the top 75 employment regions shows that all, unsurprisingly, host influential research universities.

Institutional effectiveness does not leave perceptions, internal and external, to circumstance. When the value of educational opportunity is being considered, reputation may be all that matters. And, rightly or wrongly, it’s earned, never given, one leadership decision at a time.

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