The “Business Model” for Higher Education

This is a re-post from the “On the Issues” blog of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education [] I encourage you to become more involved in this national advocacy group.


It’s almost a truism in many places today that colleges and universities ought to be run more like businesses.  But should they?  What do people mean when they say this?

The case of the outgoing Ohio State University president gives one example of how that model can play out on college campuses.

According to a recent opinion piece in Time, E. Gordon Gee was paid over $2 million per year.  Even more amazing, he was considered worth it by legislators and board members because he “had a talent for, in the jargon of our business schools, finding ways to monetize synergistic brand relationships in the context of a dynamic marketing environment. Translation: he raised a lot of money….”

What that money may have meant to students (whose tuition was skyrocketing) and their education isn’t clear, but what it meant for Gee is:  the $2 million salary didn’t include, according to the Time article, “$7.7 million that the university paid for Gee’s travel, housing and entertainment from 2007 to 2012 — a sum that included at least $895,000 for soirees at Gee’s university-provided mansion, more than a half-million dollars for private jet travel, and “$64,000 on his trademark bow ties, bow-tie cookies, O-H lapel pins and bow-tie pins for university marketing.”

Granted, most university Presidents don’t make—or fritter away—this kind of money, but the CEO model is pervasive in higher education and creates pressures on Presidents to play in that league.  We need a different kind of leadership in higher education today, one that focuses on the long-term public good of higher education and not on the values of hollow marketing and short-term revenue generation.

As the Time magazine author concludes, “Universities are not businesses, and university presidents are not CEOs. These institutions exist for reasons other than to maximize their revenue and enrich their management class.”

Read more:


I will add that anyone who believes that President Gee’s compensation and expenses are not at all illustrative of what is occurring across Ohio and other states should read my earlier post “Administrative Bloat–with Ohio’s Public Universities Providing the Illustration,” which is available at

11 thoughts on “The “Business Model” for Higher Education

  1. Anybody getting paid to “monetize synergistic brand relationships in the context of a dynamic marketing environment” is overpaid.

    And we Humanities folks are attacked for jargon?

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  3. As governor of Massachusetts , Mr. Romney unsuccessfully pushed for an overhaul the state’s university system that would have privatized three public colleges and merged several others, among other changes. But he was otherwise fairly moderate on higher education, especially compared with the large cuts being pushed today by Republican governors in states like New Jersey, Texas, and Florida, according to Noel Radomski, the director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

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