Automakers and Higher Education – What’s the Connection?

On first glance, any connection between automakers and Higher Education would seem shortsighted.

After all, they’re completely different entities with different labor forces, standards, and goals.

But when you look at the bigger picture, things start to come into focus. Take regulations for example. Both industries are subject to strict monitoring and held to standards of ethics and quality. If a school or vehicle doesn’t meet the standards laid down by the government, they accrue penalties. Consumers also get a vote on whether a company has crossed the line. In either case, the impact on a company can be devastating with negative press, advocacy groups jumping into action, and in some cases, are forced out of business.

And as of recently, both industries are in flux. Consider these uncanny parallels.

For the automotive industry there were Volkswagen’s diesel emissions lies, General Motors’ ignition switch issue, and Takata’s exploding air bags.

Although not as life-threatening (except to a few for-profit entities), the Higher Education sector had its share of ethical lapses and poor choices. Corinthian Colleges lost a $530 million lawsuit for steering students towards high-interest loans. Whether from financial ineptitude or lack of student interest, Sweet Briar College shut its doors as well. And how could we forget about the Louisville Cardinals basketball team’s pay-for-sex scandal that rocked the sports world earlier this year?

In a recent USA Today article examining the auto industry, Bomey states, “The scandals have triggered fines, fresh regulatory oversight, lawsuits and criminal probes…”

Sounds somewhat familiar to the Higher Ed headlines, doesn’t it?  With class action lawsuits, fines numbering in the hundred of millions of dollars and consumers pushing for transparency and access, both industries need a recovery plan.

It goes without saying that consumers have little tolerance for deception and will vote with their feet unless measures are put in place to regain their trust. Volkswagen is launching a new branding campaign and has decided to invest in environmentally friendly vehicles. GM, Takata, Fiat, Chrysler, Toyota, and BMW have put in quality assurance monitoring measures.

Makes one wonder what the plan is for the world of Higher Education. When the very accrediting agencies and government agencies that provide the oversight are being questioned…whose job is it to fix this mess?

Ideas anyone?

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