Published on 2014/06/24
Capital Central to Graduate Success for Small Institutions
While smaller institutions have hurdles to jump when competing in the graduate education market, their nimbleness and willingness to partner differentiates them from larger competitors.
The following email Q&A is with Evan Duff, vice president of adult and professional studies at North Carolina Wesleyan College. Duff writes frequently on the work done, and roadblocks faced, by small colleges in today’s highly-competitive higher education marketplace. In this Q&A, Duff explores the question of whether smaller colleges are helped or hindered by their size when it comes to competing in the graduate education space. He sheds light on the agility of smaller institutions, but outlines the most significant challenges they face and discusses how institutions can work to improve their standing in the graduate marketplace.

Click here to read key takeaways.

1. What competitive advantages do small institutions have when it comes to developing and delivering innovative approaches to programming? 

I think small institutions have many competitive advantages in developing and delivering innovative approaches to graduate programming. Smaller institutions tend to have a more nimble administration, faculty and staff that can develop and implement new programming more effectively than larger state institutions. Smaller institutions — especially private, non-profit — also don’t have the red tape and politics involved in implementing new programs like their larger state and research-oriented companions. Smaller institutions can build a quicker consensus and typically have more intimate and personal relationships among administration, faculty and staff because of their size.

2. In what ways can size be a hindrance when it comes to innovative program design?

On the opposite side of the spectrum, smaller colleges and universities typically don’t have the capital and infrastructure larger institutions have. Because of this, they’re limited in scope and breadth with new programs. They typically have to limit new programming to the faculty they already have in place and that don’t require major infrastructure and capital. This may prevent them from implementing the best and most innovative programs, especially in areas of high demand that are constantly evolving, such as nursing and computer technology.

3. What really differentiates smaller schools from their larger competitors in the graduate education space?

I think the biggest difference is developing niche programs that are innovative in delivery and structure. An example of this is smaller private schools developing cohort and accelerated graduate programs that may be offered in a hospital (BSN to MSN) or in an organization (MBA). Smaller institutions have the ability to be creative and quick when it comes to offering a more tailored approach to graduate education to working adults and employers. This is something community colleges have been doing for decades with industry training for major and minor organizations in their service areas. Larger, more research-oriented colleges and schools typically don’t invest in these types of partnerships because they don’t have the accelerated structure in place or it’s not part of their mission and vision.

4. Ultimately, are smaller institutions in a better or a worse position than bigger schools when it comes to developing innovative graduate programs? 

I certainly think smaller institutions could be in a much better position than larger schools. It all comes down to capital and investment planning with graduate programs. They are nimble and can be innovative without the bureaucracy of larger institutions, but they need to plan the funding for these innovations. The one exception is your large for-profit institutions. They typically have the capital and flexibility with faculty and staff to be innovative and, ultimately, the biggest competition for small or large non-profit or state institutions.

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Key Takeaways

  • Small institutions are benefitted by their nimbleness when it comes to developing innovative graduate-level programming.
  • The lack of capital and small numbers of faculty at smaller schools limits their ability to create wildly out-of-the-box programs.
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Readers Comments

Lisa C 2014/06/24 at 1:02 pm

Being nimble is incredibly important in this day and age, because market trends dictate that we need to constantly have responses to new fields as they crop up. Smaller institutions have an advantage in this regard, having generally less bureaucratic red tape to cut through when developing new programming. In addition, we’re being asked to ‘do more with less,’ and this often comes as a shock to larger institutions used to bigger budgets. Smaller institutions, on the other hand, have more or less always operated this way, so they’re able to use their limited resources efficiently and innovatively.

RF 2014/06/24 at 2:57 pm

I went to a small institution for my master’s degree and loved the interaction I had with faculty there. I felt I had a more hands-on experience than some of my friends who completed degrees at bigger institutions, simply because the faculty in my program had more time for one-on-one or small group sessions. I didn’t feel that I was ever at a disadvantage, even after I graduated and started applying for jobs. There had been some concern my degree from a lesser-known school would work against me, but the experiences and skills I gained in my program turned out to be more important than the name on my diploma when looking for work.

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