What decisions are actually made when choosing an educational programme ...

Writing short essays on pseudo-economics is not necessarily my bag; yet something deep inside this experienced educator. Continually sees a socio economic element to the programmes I run, and the aspirational nature of the decision to enrol in some of the programmes over the years.

Also, having read some pop-science books on economics recently, I may be operating in a semi-delusional state.

For a future blog entry, I feel that there is a discussion on how many higher education establishments are missing subtle pricing and could learn a trick or ten from leading supermarket chains.

Meanwhile, I am personally more interested in the aspirational nature of our customers’ decision to become students. Already I would have affronted a large population of academic experts, by the last sentence. In many respects we are still labouring under a view that evaporated over twenty years ago, that rails against the customer culture that we now serve.

Before someone becomes indoctrinated into the ethos of an educational establishment; they are clearly a potential customer ‘shopping around’ and making decisions on what programme of study they wish to select based on a multitude of factors.

Parents can make this decision for their children, with ‘managed’ participation from their offspring as they mature and develop, often opting for the local school based on choice, lack of choice or disinterest in other options.

As the child age increases, the choice will eventually centre entirely on their choice of life destination with some parental influence. Before they enter into unskilled work, higher education or an apprenticeship.

The list of choices for an educational establishment is varied and equally interesting. Often the rationale for the decisions made, can be at odds with any career logic.

Having interviewed innumerable adults and young people for different courses over many years and still getting the occasional direct query. I could summarise the questions into the following broad groups:
  • Snob appeal … do I wish to feel smug about whom I have studied with and use this in future social circumstances
  • Entertainment … does the educational institution allow me to explore other values, such as sex, drugs and rock n’roll (and maybe sports).
  • Career speed and direction … will it take me to where I wish to be, in an aspirational world, will I become the next legal eagle, director or Internet sensation.
  • Suspected added value … the most intangible; some establishments seem to garner local appeal, favour with parents, the perceived alma mater, spousal attraction, future in laws or the family cat. In some circles study at a given institution is a route to an inner sanctum of society. Maybe our household pets need to become more discerning?
  • Return on investment … almost the same, as career speed and direction will my programme of study get me the affluence and influence I desire. Does it get me into a chosen profession and leverage the right social kudos. For some, it may be the attraction of a partner of the opposite/same sex, for others, the big red sports car and a few, the social worth in the egalitarian endeavour they are committed to.
  • How much!!!! … does speak for itself, here we become price sensitive to our career desires. Whilst we tend to think in terms of education being a bottomless resource, the reality is that in the equation of time*effort there is the multiple of cost. With some professions having a clear route to entry, others can be acquired in stages during your career.
  • The Swiss army knife approach … with the prospective student, seeing each programme of study they take as an addition to their portfolio of skills. Often career based, occasionally an aesthetic acquisition of knowledge.
  • An aesthetic ... someone who is purely interested in the unique knowledge or skill aware that this may have no personal value beyond

In many respects, we all combine at least two (or three) of the above into the formulation of a positive decision about what next programme of study we are going to take. The question is, what ones did you recognise?


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