We have a big image problem. I have spent a good share of my early mornings the past two weeks having coffee with alums. I’ve met over a hundred in all. Perhaps the single most consistent feedback that I have gotten while drinking all that caffeine is that alums are worried about the quality of their degree. Every alumnus wants to have graduated from an institution that would not admit them today. But most of the UCF alums I met were concerned about degree erosion, not insufficient degree enhancement. The perception is that we are admitting too many students, ignoring their communication skills, providing them with too little applied rigor and sending them out into the job market without a professional demeanor. One alumnus said: “I’m tired of hearing that I am one of thousands with just another worthless business degree.”
Perception, it is said, is reality. Our size and recent press accounts of business school being “easy” have contributed to this perception. Newsweek didn’t help either, but frankly we are hurting our own case. In the past couple of weeks, I have seen too many transfer credits from low quality sources, too many pre-requisites waived to accommodate student circumstance, too many high class G.P.A.s and too many unprepared transfer students put on academic probation after just a semester. Opportunity cannot be synonymous with unfettered access. A student-centric approach requires standards. Everyone shouldn’t get a medal for participating. We need to redefine our culture in the College of Business Administration away from access and toward giving students an opportunity to prepare to compete. Competition is good. It makes everyone better. Students need to know that when they leave here, they are ready for the contests that awaits them.
If you want people to perceive you differently, sharply differently, you need to do something dramatic to deny their perceptions. This is why Nixon went to China: He changed perceptions of himself and his communist foe, redefining a relationship in the process. Or as my friend Jack Shibrowsky once said to me, “If you want to be perceived to be like a Big Time university, act like one.” Truer words were never spoken.
Paul Jarley, Ph.D., is the dean of the UCF College of Business Administration. He blogs every week at http://www.bus.ucf.edu/dean. The following post appeared on September 3, 2012. Follow him on Twitter@pauljarley.