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Narrow or Wide the Focus Should Be on Quality

As more and more institutions are starting up and others are revamping their offerings, they must navigate the question of whether to focus on particular industries and deliver specific degree offerings, or try to appeal to a wide group of potential students. Photo by John Tann.

Is a narrow degree offering better than wide variety of possibilities? Should upstart higher education institutions concentrate on one or two high-demand industries for the degrees they offer? Does it suggest that if they present a narrow degree offering that they will be better able to provide a quality education than those who provide a wide offering of degrees?

It is my unequivocal, irrevocable opinion that it… depends.

It depends on the institution and their commitment to excellence throughout the programs for which they offer degrees. Judging whether or not one should go to a school should be based on many factors:

  1. The institutions’ reputation for producing excellent graduates and the percentage of graduate placements in the field of the graduates’ degrees.
  2. Do they offer the degree that best fits the professional goals of the potential student?
  3. What is the focus of the school?
  4. What levels of degrees can be earned? This is especially essential if the student wishes to earn more than an associates or bachelors.
  5. Do their credits transfer to other schools?
  6. How long has this institution been in existence?
  7. Does it have a reputation for maintaining? Not only consistent academic excellence, but do the faculty and staff remain there? If not, why is that?

As much as the above-listed criteria should be asked by the potential student, they should also be the criteria on which a start-up should base its decision to offer a narrow or wide selection of degree programs.

My former employer based its degree programs on one industry: Medical. The first owners of Medtech College started their careers at a traditional higher education institution that offered a wide selection of degree and diploma programs; ranging from business to medical to law enforcement to academic. But when the owners of Medtech started the school they decided to offer only degrees in the medical field.

It also only proffers a narrow level of degrees by offering only associate degrees or diplomas. The company has since been sold to a larger conglomerate that could probably well afford to add more levels of degrees, or a wider variety, but they have chosen to continue only offering degrees in the medical field. However, it does currently have more than ten campuses spread all over the United States and plans to purchase two to three more per year. They have found their niche by offering only the medical degrees and though they have not been in the industry for long, they are trying to build a reputation for being a premiere medical technical school.

The university from which I earned my degrees from associates to master’s is “wide” all around. They not only offer all level of degrees but they offer degrees in a wide variety of industries. They also have well over 30 campuses in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. They have an excellent reputation and in my opinion more than proved themselves when it comes to the questions listed in the beginning of this article.

We have all heard of Oxford, Harvard, and Yale—they have a wide degree offering. MIT degree offerings are narrow in that they are only in science and IT. These schools seem to continue to prosper and do well. They produce extraordinary graduates and professionals. Lesser known schools like University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and Crown Point or Ivy Tech or Harrison College also provide wide degree offerings and, while they do not have the reputation of an Oxford or Harvard, they do have a reputation of producing excellent graduates and professionals.

Bottom line: Producing excellent, superior, extraordinary graduates and professionals is the goal—has to be the goal—or there would be no reason and no hope to continue to operate as a higher learning institution.

So narrow or wide… which should be the wave of the future for upstarts or traditional and established organizations that are revamping their schools? Some might say it depends on the industries concerned with the degrees these HEI’s are offering. Some might say it’s about the community and area in which the schools are located. At the end of the day—narrow or wide—colleges and universities must continue to change with the demand of the economy and culture in which they serve. They must ensure the degree offerings they proffer are timely and relevant to meet the needs of the economy and culture.

And finally, they must produce excellent graduates and professionals and there is really only one way to do that whether narrow or wide: Offer extraordinary curriculum, instructors and student career advising.

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