A New Higher Ed Business Model Targets Value Proposition:

with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Jaime Casap | Changing Higher Ed Podcast 091

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A New Higher Ed Business Model Targets Value Proposition

Colleges and Universities need to focus on a new higher ed business model.  Higher education needs to shift its approach to more effectively communicate the value proposition of lifelong learning. Education is a silver bullet and levels the playing field, especially in today’s world since—thanks to technology—learning opportunities are more easily and readily accessible.

Because of this, Jaime Casap, the former education evangelist at Google, believes that educators in both K-12 and higher education are wasting an opportunity because they are still educating students in a traditional way when the world has completely changed. Moving forward, higher education leaders need to figure out how to shift the policy conversation in relation to the value of a college education.

Jaime Casap’s Personal Experience with Lifelong Learning

Casap is a prime example of why higher education is so valuable. He is a first-generation American who was raised in Hell’s Kitchen, NY by a single mother who immigrated from Argentina.  His family lived in poverty, relying on welfare and food stamps.

He credits basketball for helping him stay the course because he had to maintain grades and attend class to be on the high school team. He attended college with plans to play basketball but ended up giving up the sport because he was too small. After earning his bachelor’s degree in political science from SUNY Brockport, Casap continued his education by studying public policy at Arizona State University.

One of his graduate faculty members encouraged him to consider applying to Harvard’s Kennedy School, but Casap didn’t feel he “belonged” at Harvard because his perception of himself at the time limited him. He is now a paid speaker at Harvard.

He went to work for then New York Gov. Mario Cuomo on public policy issues, and when Cuomo wasn’t reelected, Casap moved to Accenture to focus on consulting in the public policy space. That led to a focus on technology, which then led to high tech, which led to Charles Schwab, and then to Google.

Rethinking Higher Ed’s Value Proposition

Public policy decisions underlie what happens in relation to education, technology, and high-tech, and unless the most effective and efficient policies are enacted, ones that impact the most disadvantaged students, the nation will not move forward.

Unfortunately, higher education leaders are having a battle around the value proposition of higher education – they haven’t done a very good job of talking about what that value proposition is. Instead, they get very defensive or get into the weeds.

Higher ed’s value proposition has moved away from “We are an institution that can certify that you sat in class and took tests during classes” to now saying “We are committed to help anyone who comes to our institution become a lifelong learner and teach them how to learn and be relevant in today’s job market.” Human skills – teamwork, collaboration, creativity – are also critical. There needs to be live and simulated opportunities to build these skills and expand how these ideas are explored in different ways.

Creating a New Higher Ed Business Model 

How do college presidents shift their business model and value proposition to focus on these areas? They need to rethink the learning model for higher education. This includes helping students define who they are, what they’re passionate about, and then peppering them with so much knowledge from different disciplines and experts from around the world. And instilling this expertise so that they learn to do this for the rest of their lives.

Casap believes that while not everyone needs to go to college, everyone does need more education. A piece of paper – a diploma – is no longer necessary; instead, we need to focus on building capacity and capability. We live in a time that requires lifelong learning to reskill so we can adapt to and perform better in the rapidly changing world.

It’s no longer fruitful to ask students what they want to be when they grow up – that’s an old-world question. Instead, we need to realize that we live in a digital economy that includes AI, automation, digitization, and blockchain, among others. We’re at the very beginning of this revolution. Quantum computing makes processing complex mathematical equations relatively effortlessly and rapidly.

We need to ask the questions differently.

Therefore, it’s important to identify a problem, such as climate change, that needs to be solved and then figure out how to solve that problem, using the skills and talents that the student has. Additionally, it’s important to identify the knowledge and skills that are needed to solve the problem. That’s where higher education can help students.

For example, Casap’s daughter wanted to be a business major, but her expertise was in video and photography. When she was asked what problem she wanted to solve, it was environmental / climate change. The way she wanted to solve that problem was through video and photographic documentation. That was a natural fit for her, especially with her talents behind the camera. She is now a senior producer at CNN, and her education and experience led her to that position. In short, she was asked the right questions to make her choice of career become evident.

This one thing will cause a fundamental shift in undergraduate education. Students need to figure out who they are, increase their own knowledge and skills, and tap into the passion to become lifelong learners about their subject matter.

Changing Enrollment and Advising

Higher education tends to abandon its alumni, other than asking for money. Institutions should instead take a page out of Michael Crow’s playbook at Arizona State Universityreach out to their graduates and promote refresher courses that provide updates on cutting-edge material used in that industry. Institutions also can identify gaps in graduates’ transcripts and offer those courses as a way for former students to add to their knowledge base. Higher education also can create learning communities or develop partnerships that create value in different areas.

Institutions need to stop focusing on the piece of paper and the number of credits needed to graduate with a degree. Instead, leaders need to think about what learning looks like and provide that to graduates.

College is expensive, and while it should be expensive in some instances, leaders can also think about providing education in different terms. For example, one approach could involve setting a standard price that includes lifelong educational experiences. This subscription model would get students to return to the institution to add to their knowledge and skills.

This approach also would require individuals to let go of self-limiting beliefs, such as not being good at something or not being creative. Everyone can learn to do things, even if the level of quality is lower than “expert” level. After all, experts are people who have focused and studied particular problems their entire life – you are not born an expert, you become one.

Three Recommendations for Higher Education Leaders and Boards

  • Higher education needs to help students identify who they are, what they’re good at, and what they want to be good at.
  • The learning environment should no longer revolve around spending four years at an institution. Instead, learning takes place over a lifetime so there needs to be models developed to support that approach.
  • It’s important to think outside the normal realm of things and toward the future university business model. Instead of thinking that higher education is a professor-driven classroom, consider that moving forward learning will happen in many ways, with improvements in learning management systems and online education. It’s important to realize that institutions of higher learning are at the very beginning of this next phase of innovation and new business models.


Dr. Drumm McNaughton provides strategic planning, implementation, and change management consulting for higher education institutions.

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