The business world is changing at an ever increasing pace. To succeed, corporations must function effectively in a highly competitive, fast paced, high technology, and market-driven environment. The impact of the changing corporate environment is now reaching higher education and influencing its way of doing business. Nursing schools face growing competition for students and educational resources at a time of smaller applicant pools and tightened budgets. High school students have a broader choice of careers than in the past. RNs find it more difficult to further their education and career development because of the multiple and often competing demands from work and family responsibilities. Traditional nursing education programs are facing growing competition for students from corporate universities and virtual campuses.
Given the changing world in which today's nursing programs must operate, along with a pressing and growing nursing shortage, and increasing demands and complexity of health care, there are a number of lessons that can be adopted or adapted from the corporate world to better position nursing programs and their graduates for success. It is becoming increasingly critical that nurse educators and administrators cran new ways of responding to changes in the social order, not simply to survive but to ensure a continuing well-prepared nursing workforce to meet- and even shape- evolving demands for high-quality health and nursing care services. The following corporate lessons seem particularly important for nurse educators to heed in the current climate of health care and higher education.
LESSON ONE: Students and their education are our core business. As barriers for students to attend university education increase and nontraditional programs flourish, we must minimize or eliminate the artificial barriers to basic and advanced nursing education that create frustration and adversely affect our ability to attract and retain future students. We must never forget that students, and their learning, are our primary reason for being hi nursing education in the first place.
Corollary #1: Make exemplary customer service a top priority. We must benchmark our performance against our competitors and industry standards. It is necessary to constantly question our current work processes, policies, and rules, and adopt a continuous improvement approach to identify barriers and implement performance improvements to overcome them. Nursing programs must abandon their traditional ways of operating on fixed academic calendars and class schedules and offer more accessible and flexible scheduling options, including evenings, weekends, and "anytime, anywhere" learning opportunities. Condensed academic terms, weekend and evening classes, distance education options (compressed video and web-based), and programs delivered at the worksite should be among the options offered to make programs more accessible.
Admission to nursing programs should be rolling (even if the program "start" date is not). Prospective students should be able to get information via the institution's website, and submit an application on-line. Admission criteria should be revisited and the focus shifted from access to success. Are SATs and GREs really necessary? (Even the prestigious University of California system's president is questioning whether it's time to look at other criteria that indicate potential for success.) Response time to student requests for information and on admission decisions must be shortened. In an era when one can get instant credit approval for a mortgage on-line, why not a similarly easy process for collecting applicant information and making an admission decision?
Satisfied "customers" (students and alumni) enhance a program's revenue and continued viability in three ways: tuition and fees, peer referral, and alumni-giving. In turn, educational programs are able to provide a steady stream of new graduates to the employment sector as well as support the faculty's research and practice that continue to advance the profession and health care.
Corollary #2: Be accountable far your work product: the graduates. Nursing graduates exemplify the quality of our educational programs and are our best ambassadors. The performance and professionalism of our graduates are the primary criteria for a school's reputation with both health care providers and consumers. We must ensure we have appropriate measures to assess the performance of our graduates and to rectify curricular deficiencies, thus ensuring accountability for the quality of programs and graduates.
LESSON TWO: Be market-responsive. Nursing programs must adopt a proactive rather than reactive stance to changes in the health care market. Trends, workforce data, and market demand should be tracked on an ongoing basis. Needs assessments and focus groups of health care leaders in local, regional, and national sectors should be conducted routinely to determine market needs. Findings should be used to continually improve curricular content and educational processes to keep programs onor ahead of- the cutting edge of the changing health care delivery system.
Student interest must also be assessed and addressed. Tracking of prospective, current, and past students can provide invaluable data to increase knowledge of market trends, recruitment success (and failure), student academic success, and postgraduation placement rates and patterns. Prospective and current students should be polled regarding their preferences for course scheduling, learning needs, and desired services. Whenever possible, decisions should be based on their expressed preferences rather than faculty convenience. Although initially timeintensive, such information is essential for program planning and market success.
Corollary #1: Marketing is not a bad word. Media advertising and open houses are not something nursing programs have traditionally done; however, our competitors are doing it, and we need to also. It is also important to make sure our communities know how excellent our programs are in access, quality, and outcomes. Periodic feature articles and news spots in both print and electronic media- on cutting edge curricula, technology and programs- can help promote public awareness of nursing as a profession, and of particular nursing education programs.
A well-designed website may be the best portal to a nursing education program and a career in nursing for today's prospective students. In addition to having admissions information and applications on-line, the school's faculty and success stories should be profiled and updated regularly to "get the word out" to attract potential students. Schools must establish brand identity, through mission, program foci, or other identifiers. Schools must know and advertise what makes them unique and what they have to offer prospective students that others can't provide. Too many nursing schools try to be too many things to too many people.
Corollary #2: Embrace change and technology. The current business environment forces nursing programs to compete in a high technology, rapidly changing world. Nursing faculty must embrace change as an opportunity for trying out innovative educational approaches and exploring new practice arrangements. JNE has and will continue to publish articles on innovative and stateof-the-art approaches to leveraging information and educational technology to improve both access to and quality of nursing education.
LESSON THREE: Think and act strategically. Nursing programs, like any business, must periodically assess their effectiveness and engage in strategic thinking and planning for improvement. Clear, high-reaching stretch goals for all areas of program performance should be established, action plans and benchmarks developed, and accountability measures identified. Nursing schools, and their respective programs, should formulate aggressive yet realistic business plans to remain viable and on the cutting edge.
Nurse faculty leaders, like all successful executives, must engage in relationship-building to develop strategic community and business alliances. Such partnerships may occur with key influential individuals ae well as organizations. Ongoing input and feedback from local health care and business leaders and other stakeholders provide crucial and much-needed data for effective planning and decision-making. They should be enlisted to join the school's advisory board, and their input should be taken seriously. In turn, nurse educators and academic leaders should solicit opportunities to serve on advisory or governing boards of community partners and stakeholders.
This is a challenging time to be involved in nursing education, one that affords untold opportunities for change and innovation. An old proverb wisely states that "necessity is the mother of invention." We are faced with both threats and opportunities as perhaps never before in the history of nursing education. To not only survive but to succeed and excel in producing a workforce capable of preserving and protecting the public's health, we must be willing to adopt some of the lessons learned from the corporate world. We must commit to embracing its best, brightest, and most creative ideas for managing and responding to our rapidly changing times.