|A Walk Among College Cottages
February 19, 2020
In my last blog, when I criticized the number of persistent higher education salesmen (in this case, the gender is merited) I had tried to discourage, I failed to point out for the less aware just how ubiquitous these salespeople, and their products, are. Colleagues and I often scorn the cottage industries that have sprung up around higher education, companies able to establish a presence by promising to solve some issue that grips higher ed (and that's usually arisen because of regulation).
To get a sense of all of these cottage industries, you could just pick up any issue of University Business. In fact, I still have the December/January 2019 issue sitting unread on my desk. Let's examine how much of it is about business for colleges and universities, as opposed to the business of colleges and universities.
On the inside cover, touchnet (yes, the logo shows it lowercase) advertises itself as "A Global Payments Company" offering to "help your students move the tassel." They offer "solutions to streamline financial interactions . . . within an integrated, secure, compliant framework." Note the "C" word for the first time.
Flip the page, and Sourcewell offers to be your "government source for more than 325 cooperative contracts," because "your campus counts on you. Count on us." Sourcewell, in essence, is the cottage industry on top of the cottage industry. Don't have time to pursue all the college contracts you need to maintain your systems? Count on Sourcewell.
A few more pages in, and we start to see service ads disguised as articles, usually as interviews. These two page overviews of a product either get couched in the testimonial of some college or university senior administrator or as wisdom from some member of the company's leadership team. As such, we get Transact, payments powered by Cashnet (at this point, we are all forgiven for missing the distinctions between touchnet, transact, and cashnet, as this cottage industry loves its compound words). To lend authenticity to the testimonial, readers are encouraged to watch an entire webinar on "how to provide convenient payment options." The webinar appears to have replaced the junket as promotional deep dive.
The next testimonial/webinar, another page or two in (and it makes me wonder who is the leader of the cottage industry of educational marketing webinars), is for Softdocs, an enterprise content management provider. There is no greater fearmonger among higher education cottagers than the person who raises the specter of unsecured record management. Softdocs ECM (because after all, if you are going to fit in with the village, your cottage better rely on acronyms) will take on that pesky compliance issue on your behalf.
Not to be outdone with the fear factor, FireEye has erected its cottage next door to Softdocs, promising in its two-page "newsy-looking" advertisement to defend "students, faculty and staff against cyberattacks." Its testimonial comes from the cyber risk program director at the University of California, a title equaled only by the accompanying Q&A with FireEye's Product Strategist, which sounds like a pretty low risk job to me.
Turn the page, and we see a man deep in thought who apparently "can't make sense of his expense reports . . . and he has a PhD in Math." His institution needs SAP Concur, which offers higher education solutions to "ensure compliance when doing expenses and invoices." There you go, the "C" word has cropped up again. Just how complicated is the higher education marketplace when expenses and invoices have become so challenging? This blog threatens to collapse like a black hole.
A couple more pages in, and we are back to "this-isn't-an-advertisement-this-is-an-interview" two-pager. Here we learn that Liaison UniCAS™ (and my first use of the TM symbol) "streamlines procedures, allowing staff to do more with less via 'one application for multiple programs.'" I am not sure I can sell a product to my faculty and staff that promises to do more with less. That could be almost every small college's freaking tagline already.
After multiple pages of articles about capital projects -- apparently, actual true content -- we are met with the flashy two-page ad for AMB, which provides custodial and facility services to institutions with the promise "Capital Challenges in Higher Education And How to Win by Doing [yes, you guessed it] More with less." Outsourcing custodial costs has been happening for a long time; perhaps, it was the first cottage that settled in the darkness on the edge of town.
As if all of this wasn't enough (and I really wished I could say I planned this in advance when I opened this November/December 2019 issue of University Business), 43 pages in, UB's editorial director announces that he "is pleased to present UB's 2019 edition of 'Leading the Way,' our annual special advertising section where we highlight success stories about innovative solutions for colleges and universities," 14 consecutive pages of cottage industry adverts. Yes, you read that correctly: "We are proud to now turn our content entirely over to the prophets of profit."
What do we get in this "special section?"
- WePresent and their cross-platform projection systems.
- CCI's "furniture solutions for active learning environments."
- CurrIQÚnet meta (easily hands down winner of most irritating name) that offers "digital course catalog [that] transforms curriculum workflow at community college."
- Jenzabar Analytics, the solution leaders choose to "make decisions faster, smarter and with more confidence."
- Oracle's Human Capital Management suite that "improves employee experience." I am pretty sure most employees would love a suite. Heck of a lot better than the cubicle.
- Subway and sustainable initiatives. Don't ask me how or why Subway got in here, unless it is the solution for all of our out-of-work graduates.
- Touchnet (swooping in again) selling us on the "framework [that] improves security, efficiency and convenience."
Finally, and just because we haven't had a good compound product name in a few pages, Nelnet occupies the back cover of the magazine, offering "payment technology for a smarter campus." You know for an industry accused of milking students for millions of dollars, we sure seem to need a lot of help figuring out how to process payments. Oh, that's right, paying for a college degree is the hardest part about college.
This impromptu review of University Business should remind us to retire the phrase "cottage industry" in reference to Higher Ed. This has clearly become a Mansion Industry.
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