Since 2004, Oreo has been known as “Milk’s Favorite Cookie,” but let’s face reality, it’s ours as well. Just the name Oreo brings to mind warm summer days, sitting on the porch with your best friend, an ice cold glass of milk, and an entire sleeve of Oreo cookies. There is nothing that harkens back to childhood like twisting open an Oreo, licking off the vanilla icing, and dunking the crisp cookie bookends in milk. If done properly, it leaves a milk moustache, chocolate cookie mouth crumbs, and a satisfied smile. If only life continued to be so simple.
Much like everything else, the Oreo cookie has had to reinvent itself over the years to continue its appeal to the masses in an ever-changing marketplace. Being “America’s Best Loved Cookie” just isn’t good enough. Now it’s higher education’s turn to learn the Oreo lessons. No longer can the U.S. higher education system rely on tradition of being the “World’s Most Sought After Education.”
Oreo made headlines with the launch of its Oreo Thins that resulted in the gasp heard around the world. According to Oreo, the cookie to icing ratio stayed the same, but the whole cookie itself is half as thick coming in at 7.5 millimeters per piece. The Oreo Thins’ purpose was to broaden Oreo’s market share by appealing to its calorie-conscious, adult consumer population.
Higher education is facing a similar shift in population. A population that is changing from the typical high school graduate to the working, adult student. With this shift in population comes the challenges of delivering quality educational options that meet changing marketplace demands. Higher education institutions are working to meet the rapidly changing needs of adult students while staying grounded in tradition, not unlike Mondelez International, Inc. was trying to do for the famous Oreo.
Some have argued that the future of higher education involves the phasing out of current methodologies, but that is not entirely true. The future of higher education is the ability to provide more educational options while delivering the same level of value we have come to expect from the U.S. higher education system.
Instead of shifting from one extreme to another, there are at least three higher education lessons we can learn from Oreo when meeting changing consumer needs:
- Original: American education is a part of the American dream. It presents the opportunity after high school to leave home, spread those wings, and enter the pseudo-adult world with big eyes, hopes, and ambitions. Students enter a world that consists of lecture halls, Greek life, and basketball (good job, Ramblers). It’s tradition. Just like the original Oreo cookie, we like the idealistic picture of higher education. While many in-residence institutions are struggling to maintain enrollments, there remains a place for these public and private institutions. They were created using a recipe that has been tested and come out the other end as the perceived gold standard. The issue now for these institutions is maintaining focus on the quality of the curriculum rather than the size of the stadiums. We need to know that the original Oreo recipe that made it consistently our favorite cookie will always be there on the grocery shelf in all its blue-packaged glory.
- Double Stuf: Life is full of curve balls and no matter how well we plan our lives, it remains unpredictable. A changing economy has resulted in a change to the non-traditional student which is now the new traditional student. The working, adult student has replaced the recent high school graduate and is the growing consumer base within higher education. These students need convenience and accessibility to pursue their unique educational needs and goals while they continue to meet their personal responsibilities. Many of them need a little in-residence education, a little online education, and sometimes a little of both. They need it all and they need it within a schedule that works for them in order to be successful. This is where higher education is struggling. It’s difficult to balance higher education’s past, steeped in tradition and embrace higher education’s future, focused on technology. We love the extra vanilla icing, but also want the assurance that its quality remains the same.
- Thins: As the higher education landscape continues to shift towards an outcomes focus, institutions are looking for strategies to increase achievement and help students meet their educational goals while maintaining a work and life balance. Enter the stackable micro-credentials solutions. It almost harkens back to the days in elementary school when you received a sticker for each successfully completed homework assignment. It was a way to encourage little accomplishments along the way and who doesn’t like stickers? The stackable micro-credential offers a similar form of encouragement, but designed for the busy adult student. It allows them to celebrate little wins that can also demonstrate knowledge or skills achievement to employers. In today’s rapidly changing world, students are finding they need to acquire knowledge faster than ever before. For many individuals, Wikipedia and YouTube are proving to be the go to sources for unofficial knowledge. We want all the flavor of the Oreo without the excess calories.
We are a world that has come to love and expect options. We need options that change with us and provide the comfort of knowing we can achieve our goals using the paths that best meets our needs. Higher education is in the middle of understanding what Oreo has known all along. As your consumer-base grows, your product needs to grow with it. In order for higher education to meet the challenges of the future, it will require a better understanding of the need for educational options designed to realistically meet student and marketplace expectations. Students are not necessarily looking for a one-stop-shop. They are looking for educational options that offer convenience, accessibility, affordability, and above all, value.
How can we better meet the needs of 21st century students?