A New Reality, Part II: The George Fox Solution

The new professionals Palmer describes in my previous post cannot be shaped by institutions focused on the transfer of knowledge. This creates an opportunity for George Fox University. Seizing upon our history, heritage and mission, we are rediscovering our university’s unique contribution to higher education—our focus on educating “whole persons” by knowing them personally, academically and spiritually. Recent research of George Fox’s key stakeholders affirms this focus. Students, faculty and staff come to George Fox because they desire to be known in these ways.

We believe the desire to be known is the hope each student brings to the college experience. And it is also the key to developing the whole persons who will become tomorrow’s new professionals. But as Palmer has noted, this cannot occur by using a knowledge-transfer paradigm. What this means for George Fox is that we must become a university focused on programs that are “high-touch” and have a “high barrier to entry.” These two phrases “high-touch” and “high barrier to entry” require some explanation.

A “high-touch” program refers to academic programs that require personal interaction between the student and professor, where there is greater potential for personal transformation. We find that students who are interested in George Fox, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, are looking for more than career preparation, which can happen anywhere. They want to pursue a calling and they want an education that incorporates their values into that calling. Those academic programs that are “high-touch” leverage the inherent advantages of our Christian university, which seeks to teach, shape and send students to make a difference in the world. A high-touch program takes what we do best, “whole-person education,” and connects it with what students want.

A “high-barrier-to-entry” program speaks to the business side of our institution. High-barrier-to-entry programs are those academic programs that cannot be easily replicated by competing institutions. These barriers to entry often include the time and investment it would take for a university to start and successfully run a similar program. It also includes the development of a differentiated curriculum that is in tune with the students in our marketplace and uniquely delivered by the university.

Examples of high-touch, high-barrier-to-entry programs at George Fox include the doctor of psychology program, the master’s in counseling program and our upcoming physical therapy doctoral program. What these programs all have in common is that they leverage our strengths as a Christian university, require face-to-face interaction, have strong professional outcomes and are difficult for competing institutions to replicate.

Unlike “knowledge-transfer” programs—which focus on information delivery—high-touch, high-barrier-to-entry programs identify scarcity that exists within the higher education marketplace and leverages the strengths of the university in order to satisfy the unmet needs of students. These are programs that students are willing to pay for with their resources and that faculty and staff are willing to pay for with their careers.  By focusing more on high-touch, high-barrier-to-entry programs, and not getting distracted by the commoditization of the knowledge-transfer paradigm, George Fox can fit a unique niche in the higher education marketplace in ways that make sense missionally, as well as from a business perspective.

I believe this is the path George Fox must take if it wants to have a sustainable future in keeping with its mission of transforming lives through Christian higher education.

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