A Brand Ecosystem for Higher Education

Pinar, M., Trapp, P., Girard, T., & Boyt, T. E. (2011). Utilizing the brand ecosystem framework in designing branding strategies for higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 25(7), 724–739. doi:10.1108/09513541111172126

“Utilizing The Brand Ecosystem Framework in Designing Branding Strategies for Higher Education” includes a compelling rationale for the importance of branding institutions of higher education and a framework for developing a brand.  Building off of an extensive review of the literature, the authors provide information specific to higher education institutions (such as challenges associated with the narrow view of branding), present a brand ecosystem, and demonstrate the importance of having a fully integrated effort.  The literature review includes numerous general marketing sources as well as those specific to higher education.

In the article, the authors use a coherent well-organized approach that includes examples of branding and its components both from outside of and within higher education.  This approach, particularly the examples of branding in higher education, presents a clear reason for the value of branding to a higher education audience that may be less familiar with the concept.  The main goal of the article is to present a theoretical framework that includes the major factors and interactions of these factors in developing a university brand (Pinar, Trapp, Girard, & Boyt, 2011).  This theoretical framework is the articles primary contribution to the field.  There was no primary data gathered by the authors and the analysis was based on the information gleamed from the literature review.

With the recent economic downturn, reduced higher education funding from states (for state colleges and universities), and the increase in for profit competitors, higher education institutions have looked for alternative ways to maintain or improve the services they provide.  A number of institutions have explored branding.  According to Kotler and Keller (2006), a brand represents customers’ perceptions and feelings about the product (or service) and its performance.  As one of the most important assets of an organization, brands need to be thoughtfully developed and managed.

Some in higher education view branding as only marketing communication such as brochures, logos, and websites.  A brand is much broader than that and includes the experiences of students, alumni, donors, and employers with the institution.  In higher education, a more significant challenge is the “ideological gap” between designing the university experience to meet student expectations and designing the service to meet what the institution believes the students should experience.  Brands that are successful at the university level focus on students and their needs, not on what the university believes students should need (Ng & Forbes, 2008).  For many universities, the focus on students’ needs will only occur when there is a substantial paradigm shift and operational changes throughout the institution.  These changes may be necessary but likely won’t be easy.

The theoretical framework presented by the authors is called a brand ecosystem (Pinar et al., 2011).  In a brand ecosystem, the preferences and expectations of the target market are the driving force.  Also, every internal and external activity in the brand system inter-relate and should contribute to reinforcing the desired brand image and customer experience with the brand, both short-term and long-term.  With the perspective that students are the only reason universities exist, the center of the brand ecosystem is the student experience, as indicated in the graphic below.  The core value created by the university experience is learning through teaching and research.  Other activities that create value for students include student life, sports, and community activities or service (Pinar et al., 2011).  While these ancillary services may not be essential, they impact the delivery of the core academic service and all services interact to create the entire university experience for students (Ng & Forbes, 2008).  The brand ecosystem also includes the experiences of alumni, donors, and employers with the institution.

Like other services, the students’ education experience is the sum of all encounters including student-faculty, student-administration/staff, and student-student interactions, any of which has the capability to influence students’ perception of the university brand.  The academic experience, for example, can be viewed as the sum of classroom lectures and discussions, homework, tests, class projects, internships, student research supervised by faculty, conversations between students and faculty, academic advising, etc.  Each encounter can improve or negatively affect the students experience and therefore, the brand ecosystem is a compilation of the interrelated experiences over time that share a common focus and direction (Pinar et al., 2011).  Due to the importance of these encounters, universities should clearly articulate the desired student experience and provide a strong internal branding program and provide faculty and staff with the necessary training and support, particularly for those whose duties require direct contact with students.  Highly qualified faculty, staff and administrators are essential to creating excellent student experiences with the brand ecosystem.  Universities should clarify the roles and behavior needed from all employees to deliver on the promises of value associated with the brand.  A university brand and a student experience have an interdependent relationship.  The brand communicates the type of experience (i.e., promise and expectation) while the experience reinforces and (hopefully) builds the brand.  In turn, the brand facilitates the next experience in a relationship that continues in a dynamic and mutually rewarding way.

My view

The authors write with a well-informed marketing perspective that is firmly grounded in higher education.  Some in higher education continue to believe that branding is not appropriate and incompatible with traditional academic values.  I believe that good branding not only is aligned with academic values but can bring them to the forefront.  It isn’t one or the other.  Without branding, universities face greater risk of declines in enrollment and, more importantly, a missed opportunity to become more student focused.

The article presents the rationale for branding in an effective manner for those in higher education.  In addition, the brand ecosystem provides a high level model for universities willing to take the first step in developing a brand.  The authors suggest future research on implementing measuring and testing the brand ecosystem model and I agree.  Developing the model is helpful; implementing and testing it would provide great insight into the model’s effectiveness and capability to facilitate the adoption of much needed branding initiatives in higher education.

Kotler, P., & Keller, K. L. (2006). Marketing Management (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ng, I., & Forbes, J. (2008). Education as service: the understanding of university experience through the service logic. Journal of Marketing Higher Education, 19(1), 38–64.

Pinar, M., Trapp, P., Girard, T., & Boyt, T. E. (2011). Utilizing the brand ecosystem framework in designing branding strategies for higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 25(7), 724–739. doi:10.1108/09513541111172126


Ethnographic Bias

“After Objectivism” is chapter 2 in Renato Rosaldo’s (1994) book entitled, “Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis.”  Rosaldo (1994) provides a thought-provoking look at the challenges associated with ethnography (i.e., the systematic study of peoples and cultures).  In particular, Rosaldo (1994) criticizes “classic” ethnography that describes events as if they were programmed cultural routines and places the observer at a distance (at least figuratively) from those being observed.  For some, classic ethnography, which was in vogue from about 1920-1970, became the one and only legitimate form for telling the literal truth about other cultures.

In the chapter, numerous examples of descriptions of people and cultures through the “objective” lens of classic ethnography are provided.  The examples have a sterile detached quality that may be perceived as credible and objective because they were written by well-educated western scholars.  Rosalado (1994) posits, however, that the examples are only one perspective.  Others might be less collegial and consider the classic ethnographic view myopic.  The author provides an interesting way to assess the adequacy of social descriptions with the question, “How valid would we find ethnographic discourse about others if it were used to describe ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994)?”  To illustrate this approach the author describes a typical Canadian breakfast scene using classic ethnographic terms.  In the description, the father is the “reigning patriarch, as if just in from the hunt” and “the women talk among themselves and designate one among them as toast maker.”  Throughout the meal, “the women and children, including the designated toast maker, perform the obligatory ritual praise song, saying, ‘These sure are great eggs, Dad.’”  As absurd as this sounds, would the people about whom classic ethnographers wrote have had a similar reaction to the description of their culture and them?  Because the description is written in English and includes sophisticated vocabulary is it more accurate or credible than others?

The broad effects of classic modes of composition typically were not explored at the time because they were assumed to be objective.  Rosaldo (1994) does not believe these perspectives should be rejected outright.  Instead, he recommends they be displaced and become one among a number of viable forms of social descriptions.  Specifically, the classic accounts should be recovered but no longer viewed as the sole truth about other cultures. Instead, classic descriptions should become one perspective among others (Rosaldo, 1994).  How social descriptions are read and understood depends not only on their linguistics but also their content and context.  Who is speaking to whom and about what?  Why are these people speaking and what are the circumstances (Rosaldo, 1994)?

In addition to his criticism of classic ethnography, Rosaldo (1994) provides a number of perspectives and suggestions for reducing individual bias when describing different cultures and peoples.  Personal narratives can add balance to impersonal descriptions to better represent other forms of life.  Another practical idea is to give the same consideration to criticisms from the individuals and groups studied as to criticisms of peers.  This is easier said than done but a noble goal, nonetheless.  Finally, the author takes one step further and suggests that, “we ethnographers should be open to asking not only how our descriptions of others would read if applied to ourselves but how we can learn from other people’s descriptions of ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994).”

The idea of learning from others, particularly in relationships where learning is understood to be one-way, is a powerful and important concept.  Transformational learning can happen when the one-way learning reverses direction.  This occurs when teachers learn from students, when masters learn from apprentices, when ethnographers learn about their own culture and themselves from those they are studying, and so on.

As participant observers in action research, we have a unique opportunity to learn from our community and develop personally and professionally.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (pp. 46–67, 168–195). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Branding at Embry-Riddle

Curtis, T., Abratt, R., & Minor, W. (2009). Corporate brand management in higher education: the case of ERAU. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 18(6), 404–413. doi:10.1108/10610420910989721

“Corporate Brand Management in Higher Education: The Case of ERAU” is a good primer on branding a higher education institution.  The article is easy to read, well organized, and has appropriate headings.  Included in the article is an extensive and clearly presented literature review with an overview of corporate branding as well as how this concept and the concepts of corporate identity and corporate image can be used in higher education.  The rationale for adopting corporate brand management in higher education is comprehensive and straightforward.  Regarding contribution to field, this article is helpful for institutions that don’t have much experience in branding, particularly those that are considering starting a branding initiative.  I don’t believe the information in the article is strong enough to change the mind of skeptics who believe branding is incompatible with academic principles and values.

The theoretical framework for the research is informed by the perspectives provided regarding how corporate branding, corporate identity, and corporate image relate to higher education.  This is helpful because the information presented is applicable to most businesses and institutions including colleges and universities.

A qualitative approach with a single case study method was used for the research.  Data was collected from a variety of sources including secondary sources (e.g., university documents and Web site, archival data) and interviews of top university administrators.  A discussion document focused on brand management was drawn up for the interviews based on the literature review.  Open ended questions for administrators were focused on identifying the purpose of the corporate brand management process and logistics.  This approach is appropriate due to the complexity of the process, multiple and dynamic variables involved, and numerous participants on the initiative.

Corporate Branding in Higher Education

Corporate brands should be true, meaningful to the target audience, and distinct from the competition. Target audiences in higher education might include prospective and current students, parents, faculty and staff, alumni, community stakeholders, and the general public.  A brand can also incorporate “belonging.” This is important in higher education where graduates may identify with the brand of their school throughout their life. University brands may include a variety of quantitative measures to position themselves compared to competitors such as faculty research productivity, student scores on entrance exams, selectivity of admissions, and starting salary of graduates.  Qualitative measures used for positioning may include the perceptions of the university’s target audiences.  Branding is not only the responsibility of the school’s marketing department.  A successful brand requires alignment of all the university’s resources.  The quality of the institution’s faculty and research, the programs offered, the service provided to students, and the physical attributes of the campus and facilities should all express and reinforce the brand.

Corporate Identity and Image for Higher Education

Corporate identity is the portion of the brand that is created by internal stakeholders.  In higher education these identities should position the school appropriately in the marketplace, be accepted by society, and create a consistent image among stakeholders.   Previously, corporate identity used to be limited to visual identifications and logos but has now evolved to include how the school’s employees behave and interact with those outside of the institution.

Corporate image is how those outside the institution (including external stakeholders) view the school.  For comparison, corporate identity is “what the school wants to be” and corporate image is “what the school is perceived to be.”  Corporate image is the result of corporate branding.  Improving image is no easy task because of the diversity of multiple stakeholders and effects of many factors including organizational, situational, personal, business, and regulatory.

The case at Embry-Riddle

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a well-known institution specializing in aviation and aerospace education with about 34,000 students on two residential campuses, online, and at training facilities around the world.  With the leadership of a new president in 2006, the university embarked on a corporate brand management initiative to facilitate additional expansion of the school outside of the United States market.  A substantial challenge was the lack of unity among university constituencies with regard to the brand, image, and identity that the school should have to maintain or improve its existing competitive advantage while expanding programs and research domestically and internationally.

For corporate brand management, the marketing proposed a new website, some program marketing, and developing corporate brand positioning.  The information provided about the website and program marketing activities was basic.  Developing a new website is commonplace in higher education institutions whether or not they embrace branding and the program marketing example was unsophisticated.  The information about developing the corporate brand position illustrated some of the strategic complexity associated with defining a brand.  Should Embry-Riddle broaden its position to become a premium provider of comprehensive education or should they focus their efforts on building on their existing strengths in the domestic and international markets?  These questions are of critical importance and once the brand position is defined it should drive organizational focus and resources.

The next step in the process was to conduct a brand audit.  The article had worthwhile information about the internal and external groups that were to participate and about a brand positioning process model that was used.  There are three measures in a brand audit: awareness, key attributes, and relationship outcomes.  Awareness was measured among key segments in geographical areas. Key attributes were measured as percentages for geographical segments such as, “Embry-Riddle has a broad selection of programs (to meet a variety of needs)” or “Embry-Riddle helps you get a job or advance your career.”  Relational outcomes were measured as percentages for geographic segments among key prospective student groups.  Examples of questions to measure relational outcomes are: “Would you consider Embry-Riddle if you were planning to obtain an aviation/aerospace or general education?” and “Would you advise a co-worker, family member or a friend to consider Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University if they were planning to obtain an aviation/aerospace education or general education?”

Information in the article about the rest of the corporate brand management process was limited. The results of the brand audit are used to generate a concept, which in turn is used to develop the university brand positioning statement.  In the next phase the positioning statement is tested among key stakeholders.  Based on the feedback the formal university positioning statement is created.  The final phase of the process is to develop the marketing campaign based on the statement and determining metrics to evaluate the brand on a regular (in this case annual) basis.

My view

The authors utilized a comprehensive literature review to provide a strong rationale for why institutions of higher learning should articulate and manage their brand.  I liked their use of “corporate” to modify the terms of branding, identity, and image.  In this way, they communicated that the concepts they are recommending for higher education are the same that have been used successfully in businesses and other organizations.  I had high hopes that the case study would provide information regarding the challenges and opportunities faced by the university and substantive implications for developing and managing a brand.  The research did provide helpful information about branding process used by the university but little about the position developed or the lessons learned about the process, both of which were beyond the scope of the study.  What university positioning did Embry-Riddle develop? How was it implemented? Was it effective?

It would have also been helpful to include information from the contrary viewpoint that sees branding as unsuited for higher education.  Individuals with this viewpoint have strong positions that can derail a well-intended branding effort.  Developing a compelling brand for a university is an important and difficult challenge.  Even with an elegant process, there are going to be bumps along the way.

Looking for students in all the right places

Imagine you are responsible for recruiting high quality students for your university. What if you knew of a group of prospective students who would add rich diversity and bring their unique experiences and skills to your university?  What if these students created an environment in which learning was enriched for your other students and them?

Here are some of the characteristics of the group.  They are hopeful and believe they can overcome substantial obstacles that many of your other students will never have to face.  They are multilingual with good cross-cultural awareness, literacy and math skills, teaching and tutoring skills, civic and familial responsibility, and are socially mature.  They draw from and give back to a strong network of social contacts (Yosso, 2005).  The individuals in this group have and rely on a strong family orientation and possess a deep sense of community history and culture.  They are adept at finding their way in unfamiliar situations and have developed capabilities by opposing societal inequities (Yosso, 2005).

Who are these students?  They are People of Color in groups who have been historically marginalized in our society.

Tara Yosso’s (2005) “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth” provides an opportunity for institutions of higher learning to positively transform the access, scholarship, and impact they provide by including groups that have historically been marginalized.  The article details the concept of critical race theory, which is called community cultural wealth.  Yosso (2005) describes critical race theory as a framework that can be used to theorize, examine, and change the ways race and racism affect social structures, practices, and discourses.  Community cultural wealth as defined in the article is an array of knowledge, skills, abilities, and contacts possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to survive and resist macro and micro-forms of oppression (Yosso, 2005).

Yosso (2005) believes that deficit thinking is one of the most prevalent forms of contemporary racism in United States’ schools.  Deficit thinking blames minority students and families for poor academic performance because: 1) students enter school without the normative cultural knowledge and skills and 2) parents neither value nor support their child’s education.  Basically, deficit thinking says it’s your fault you don’t fit in our model, we know our model is right, and we’re not interested in changing it.  In stark contrast, community cultural wealth calls attention to the unique aspects and contributions of marginalized groups.

Communities of Color nurture cultural wealth via at least six forms of capital including aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational,  and resistant (Yosso, 2005).  Aspirational capital is the ability to maintain hope for the future, despite real and perceived obstacles.  This capital is about the community dreaming beyond their present circumstances.  What if?

Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through experiences with more than one language or style.  When I studied for my masters I had the opportunity to take a foreign language. As a result of this experience I developed a deeper appreciation for the culture of the language I was studying.  An additional bonus was an improvement in understanding my native language.  Non-native English speakers possess a rich cultural heritage that complements the study and acquisition of English.  Children in these communities often have engaged in storytelling, which involves memorization, attention to detail, vocal tone, and rhyme(Yosso, 2005).

Familial capital is the cultural knowledge nurtured by family that consists of community history, memory, and cultural intuition.  Through the strong family bond, individuals learn the importance of maintaining a healthy connection to the community and its resources.  Social capital includes networks of people and community resources (Yosso, 2005).  An example of social capital is the importance of community support in Latina/o students going to college (Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez, & Cooper, 2009).

Navigational capital is being able to find the way through social institutions, particularly those that were not designed with Communities of Color in mind.  Lastly, resistant capital is the knowledge and skills that have developed by opposing inequity (Yosso, 2005).

There is a great need for universities to welcome individuals from Communities of Color.  By valuing community cultural wealth and changing the lens through which prospective students are viewed, we will improve access to our institutions and increase the excellence and impact we create.


Liou, D. D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Bad Branding

Waeraas, A., & Solbakk, M. N. (2009). Defining the essence of a university: Lessons from higher education branding. Higher Education, 57(4), 449–462.

“Defining the essence of a university: Lessons from higher education branding” by Arild Waeraas and Marianne Solbakk is an informative look at the challenges of branding in higher education.  The article chronicles a failed branding initiative at a regional university in northern Norway.  In 2002, university leadership agreed to undertake a branding effort to develop a unique identity for the institution.  One of the key advocates for the effort, the Director of Communications, wanted to define who the university is, what it wants, and where it is going.  A public relations firm was hired to provide consultation and facilitate the branding effort that was called the “VI project” (Waeraas & Solbakk, 2009).

The article was well-organized and presented the information in a manner that flowed from the beginning to the conclusion.  The article presented that there is little research on how branding efforts are implemented in higher education institutions, especially with regards to what worked and what didn’t.  This article provided a critique of the brand initiative and numerous specific examples and quotes from key participants.  Unfortunately, I feel the theoretical framework used in the article limited the value of the information presented.  To me the study came across as a rationalization of why branding is inappropriate for universities, rather than a more objective critique of the process.  The article was cohesive and consistent but the information presented was skewed to the positions of the skeptic participants in the branding effort.  Without question, however, the study paints a clear picture of the formidable challenges associated with branding a university.

More than 50 references were cited including articles providing support for branding universities and articles identifying major obstacles to overcome.  I appreciated the broad spectrum of views on branding included. In addition to the literature review, the study used a longitudinal design with qualitative data gathered from three sources: archive data, two series of semi-structured interviews, and numerous unstructured conversations with the VI project manager (Waeraas & Solbakk, 2009).  This method of data collection allows for rich insight regarding the challenges and opportunities associated with the initiative.  The archive data included communication strategy and communication platform drafts, meeting minutes, strategy documents, annual reports, etc.  For the study, the authors communicated with key participants in the VI project including the VI project manager, the Director of Communications, the University Provost, University President, a consultant from the public relations firm, and faculty who had participated in the workshops.  The data was organized into three central themes: 1) overall identity definition (what to be), 2) core values (what to stand for), and 3) consistency (how to orchestrate the university’s communication).

Not developing the brand

With the goal of reflecting the academic nature of the institution, location in Norway, and research foci on arctic topics (e.g., auroral light research, fishery science), the overall identity definition devised was “The University of the North.”  This definition was not well received by faculty who believed the focus on location was too limiting and the arctic topics excluded a number of departments such as mathematics, business, law, and medicine.  The exercise created a dilemma of choosing between an overall identity definition around the arctic and northern research foci that excluded other fields or choosing a more general, less differentiated profile.  As a result, the final proposed communication strategy didn’t include the university’s overall identity definition (Waeraas & Solbakk, 2009).  Strike one.

After an in-depth search in the organization that was facilitated by the public relations firm, the university’s value platform was proposed to be “open, different, and vigorous.”  Not surprisingly, this went over like a lead balloon.  As a result of the criticism, the platform was revised to “strong, important, and open.”  The platform attempted to build on the traditional values of the university.  “Strong” was intended to refer to the quality of research and teaching and “important” to the university’s role in the north.  The second version didn’t fare much better and was criticized (correctly, I believe) for not being distinct.  At this point, the initiative started to unravel as the provost and other VI project members became increasingly skeptical of the value of the branding effort.  Towards the end of the project, the provost, backed by the president, refused to recommend the value platform to the university board.  Strike two.

Even though there tends to be little control over faculty actions or communication in universities,  the IV project team initially was optimistic about achieving a consistency that would clarify the image of the university.  However, this effort was viewed as an attack on academic freedom and was derailed quickly.  One of the workshop participants described it as, “almost totalitarianism, that we all should march in the same direction, as an organization, and be at management’s beck and call.”  Strike three.

The authors provided several reasons why defining a brand is problematic for universities. Among them are the difficulty in agreeing on central values and the challenges of describing an institutional identity that built on university traditions but was also distinctive.  With the complexity of universities and the difficulty of developing a common essence, the authors suggested branding exercises may be inappropriate.

My view

The article vividly illustrates what can go wrong when developing a university’s brand and I agree it is difficult to point to positive outcomes from the brand initiative.  I strongly disagree, however, that the failure of the initiative suggests that branding is inappropriate for universities.  Here are a number of reasons why:

  • It wasn’t apparent that there was a competitive threat or other significant market factor that provided a compelling rationale for developing a brand.
  • The authors included little information reflecting a student (i.e., customer) perspective.  A brand should be built around what is meaningful and relevant to customers.
  • I agree with the authors that the overall identity definition of “The University of the North” is poor.  However, an inadequate identity definition doesn’t mean branding isn’t needed.
  • The university value platform of “strong, important, and open” wasn’t so great either.  It is difficult to articulate any value platform in three words that is distinctive and can serve as a strategic guide for an organization.  I would use a different process (and more words) to define organizational values.
  • Developing a great brand and maintaining academic freedom are not mutually exclusive.  A well-defined brand enables university capabilities by attracting well qualified students and faculty that keep the institution economically viable.

As indicated in the article, there is relatively little research on the branding process at universities.  With increased competition, the need for a well-crafted brand becomes more important.  There is an opportunity to apply the methodology used in the study to research universities, particularly those in highly competitive markets.  Where have branding efforts been successful and why?  What efforts have failed and why? What best practices of branding are emerging?

The article is a reminder to me about the importance of objectivity in research.  I believe the bias of the authors led them to suggest that branding was likely not appropriate for universities because the branding initiative they studied failed.  While I disagree, it is important for me to consider my preconceived notions as I pursue my area of inquiry.  If I simply look to justify my position, I will have missed a great opportunity for learning.

Enlightened Education

In elementary school I remember learning about how missionaries brought religion to Native Americans.  The noble, white missionaries traveled in the newly discovered Americas to save the primitive indigenous peoples.  At the time I thought about how fortunate the Native peoples were to have been helped by these voyagers.  My views have changed.

Missionaries were the first to impose Euro-American forms of education on Native Americans.  The focus of missionary efforts was to change the Natives’ religion, a drastic change to tribal culture in and of itself.  Early missionary and government teachers assumed Native Americans had were uneducated individuals.  One may argue that Native American education was more sophisticated than the Eurocentric alternative at the time.  Native American education  typically included observation, participation, assimilation and experiential learning (Cajete, 2008).

Another example of Native American’s educational sophistication is their recognition of seven basic orientations (including the four cardinal directions of north, south, east and west).  The other three orientations include the center, which is usually the community or village, and the “above” and “below.”  The below represents the universe, or earth and the above is the celestial or the universe we recognize as the cosmos (Cajete, 2008).

The orientations begin with the “centering place,” which contains the essence of everything that emanates from it.  East is the domain of the rising sun and the source of perfection and insight.  West is the domain of the setting sun and the source of social well-being in the community.  The South harbors plants, spiritual richness, and fertility of the earth.  North is the domain of animals, the unknown and the night.  Below is the domain of the earth mother and elements of earth, fire, water, air, and ether.  The above is the place of the Celestial Father, the great mystery and order of the cosmos (Cajete, 2008).  These orientations reflect the holistic learning and connection with and respect for nature in Native American education.

There is a great need today among Native Americans for science expertise to pursue self-determination in tribal resource management, health, and economic development.  It has been shown that Native American students continue to lag in science and math achievement when compared to their non-Native American counterparts.  According to Gregory Cajete (2008), one of the causes is that few schools serving Native Americans integrate cultural content (Cajete, 2008).

Cajete’s (2008) “Seven Orientations for the Development of Indigenous Science Education” is an insightful and practical approach for teaching science to Native Americans and represents an enlightened view of educating an indigenous people.  In addition, many of his educational recommendations would benefit all populations.

For his framework, Cajete (2008) presents a culturally-based approach that embraces Native American culture while adhering to the constructs of traditional Euro-American education (Cajete, 2008).  The framework is a skillful blending of two distinct pedagogies to serve a common need and many of the elements in these orientations would enhance standard science curricula.

To resist the assimilation of Native American students’ cultural orientation Cajete (2008) proposes “border crossings,” in which students cross into the subculture of Western science without abandoning their way of knowing.  The goal is enculturation with the teaching and learning of science being supportive of student’s cultural orientation.  One way to cross borders is for Native Americans to take on the role of anthropologists in order to learn Western science.  In this approach, students become “cultural tourists,” and teachers are the “tour guides” that help students navigate the borders of cultural knowledge between their own worlds and science (Cajete, 2008).

Cajete’s (2008) strategy for curriculum modeling is to teach the principles of science by first introducing students to the ways that these principles are communicated or used in Native American culture.  The aim is to demonstrate how these principles originated from creative thought processes and lead to an established commonality between the two cultural perspectives (Cajete, 2008).

Many years have passed since my elementary school study of missionaries’ quest to convert Native Americans to Christianity.  What I learned as a child was presented by and large from a Eurocentric perspective.  I feel I now have a better understanding of the clash of cultures and injustices forced upon Native Americans by their oppressors.  Cajete’s (2008) sensitive, thoughtful, and practical approach to science education creates a hopeful bridge between two cultures.


Cajete, G. (2008). Seven Orientations for the Development of Indigenous Science Education. In Handbook of critical and Indigenous methodologies (pp. 487–496).

The uncomfortable adoption of marketing practices in higher education

Eaton, S. E., & Goddard, J. T. (2007). How marketing practices affect education – A comparative case study of Canada, the United States and Australia. In 76th Annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (pp. 1–16). Alberta, Canada.

The proliferation of for-profit offerings and reductions in government funding have resulted in increased competition in educational markets.  To respond, many public educational institutions have been forced to adopt commercial business practices.  This is a review of a paper by Eaton and Goddard that examines marketing in education entitled, “How marketing practices affect education – A comparative case study of Canada, the United States and Australia.”

In the paper the authors wrote about the effect of marketing on various educational institutions in Canada, the United States, and Australia.  The authors provided information in the introduction about how the forces of globalization, advanced technology, and educational funding have required educators to reconsider the relationship between business and education.  The authors did not examine the morality of this trend, nor did they explore political or religious motives.  Instead they investigated how this shift has affected public education in the three countries.  Each of the countries is large and has a predominantly English-speaking population with an educational system that serves a diverse population.  Also, each of the countries has incorporated more marketing practices into their educational systems in recent decades with different acceptance and success.  Unlike most industries, many of those responsible for promoting educational programs have little or no background in business.  This has resulted in what can be a reluctant group of educational marketers; by most business standards not a formula for success.

The section about historical and geographical contexts addresses the relationships businesses have had with educational institutions through sport-related activities.  These relationships began as early as the 1920s and typically developed separate from core educational functions.  Among educators, there is less acceptance of business relationships within the core educational functions.  The authors raised a key question regarding how educational administrators have shifted their philosophies and operations to accommodate this linkage to business.

There are three case studies in the article.  The first study, in Australia, documents a shift to a business approach that began in the mid-1980s, a time when universities received 85% of their funding from public sources and didn’t charge tuition.  To accommodate the loss of public funding, universities began to charge full tuition for foreign students and aggressively marketed internationally.

The Canada case study deals with a shift to market-based professional development programs that not only covered their costs but became revenue generators for the institution.  For some Canadian schools the vocabulary of marketing created problems.  What educators would call the “right kind of students” became known as the target market. The school crests and colors were considered the school branding.  Many educators were uncomfortable with these terms and concepts.

In the United States case study a number of universities gave out electronic devices to attract students.  The authors suggested that universities were partnering with businesses under the guise of benefiting students and to position themselves as being on the cutting edge of technology.  In actuality, neither students nor faculty saw the link between the electronic devices and their education.

The paper is a literature review that provided worthwhile information about this topic that is becoming increasingly important.  More than twenty references were cited, the majority of which were within five years of the original publication date.  In terms of organization the paper was coherent and had a logical flow.  However, as a synthesis of existing research, the paper does not make a substantial contribution to the field.

The case studies in particular had limited value.  Specifically, the Australian and United States studies only provided high-level information about narrowly focused aspects of marketing.  The Australian case study focused on marketing to foreign students but provided little else on the impact of marketing.  For example, did the schools change their programs to cater to foreign students?  Did the increase in foreign students enrich the educational experience?  How did the universities attract foreign students who were paying full tuition?

The United States case study dealt only with giving away electronic devices to attract students.  Was this an effective strategy?  Did enrollment increase?  What were the challenges and opportunities associated with marketing and business practices being integrated into educational institutions?

The case study for Canada was the most worthwhile because the authors provided information about scholar and practitioner views of marketing and education.  Hesel stated, “What marketers call a brand or market position is nothing more than a compelling identity that expresses the special qualities of that product in ways that motivate the interest and inspire the dreams of important constituencies” (Hesel, 2004).  The views of Robert Moore expand the frame of reference to a community sphere in which the institution that a student attends becomes part of his or her identity (Moore, 2004).

The paper is informed by critical theory, which is often motivated by a desire to emancipate the oppressed.  This motivation is complementary to intersectionality research, which has a central purpose analyzing social inequity, power and politics (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013).  It was not evident in the paper how the authors used critical theory.  In addition, there were no significant findings presented.

Since this article was written in 2007, there’s an opportunity to revisit the three markets represented and evaluate the impact of additional years of marketing.  Broadening the research would provide additional insight.  In recent years many more universities have implemented customer relationship management systems.  These systems capture and report on student specific and aggregated data to evaluate the cost effectiveness of marketing and recruiting activities by program.


Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Special Ed Research. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32–47.

Hesel, R. (2004). Know thyself: 5 Strategies for Marketing a College. Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(34), B9-10.

Moore, R. M. (2004). The Rising Tide: “Branding” in the Academic Marketplace. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 36(3), 56-61.

Mismeasuring Man

“American Polygeny and Craniometry before Darwin” is chapter 2 in “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould.  The chapter provides detailed information about how nineteenth century science and research were used to support a position that was broadly held at the time, rather than advance knowledge through discovery.

In the nineteenth century, the prevailing view among Caucasians was that they were superior to other races.  This was not a new position.  Writings the author presents by revered American figures, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln would be considered racist today.  The author provides information about two views that were both used as justifications for racial ranking: monogenism and polygenism. Monogenism (origin from a single source) is the belief that human races are degenerations from the perfection of the bible’s Eden.  Even though all peoples descend from Adam and Eve, some races have declined more than others according to this view.  By contrast, polygenism is the belief that human races are separate biological species and descendants of different Adams.  Of the two, monogenism was probably the more popular, perhaps because it was consistent with common interpretation of scripture.

Much of the chapter is devoted to a critical review of the beliefs of Louis Agassiz and the research of Samuel George Morton, both of whom were staunch supporters of polygenism.

Agassiz, an esteemed Swiss naturalist, moved to America and became a leading spokesperson for polygenism.  His position on polygenism was bolstered his personal theory and methods.  First, he developed a theory of “centers of creation” while studying the geographic distribution of animals and plants.  Agassiz believed species were created in their proper places and didn’t stray far from these centers.  Secondly, he focused on minute distinctions to establish species based on small peculiarities of design, which is known in taxonomic practices as an extreme splitter.  Agassiz speculated freely about his beliefs but didn’t have any data for support.

Morton, an aristocrat from Philadelphia with two medical degrees, provided data that won worldwide respect for the American view of polygeny.  He had a reputation as a great data-gatherer and objectivist of American science.  His hypothesis was that races could be ranked by measuring the size of the brain.  Morton published data and findings that supported his hypothesis.  Gould, the author of this chapter, reanalyzed Morton’s data and found four categories of problems: 1) Large subsamples were included or deleted to match group averages with prior expectations, 2) Some measures were sufficiently imprecise to allow for a wide range of influence by subjective bias (e.g., blacks fared poorest and whites best when results could be biased towards expectations), 3) Procedural omissions (e.g., Morton believed skull size recorded mental ability but didn’t consider sex or stature, both of which effected the results), and 4) Miscalculations and omissions that added justification to Morton’s position.

Fear played a prominent role in these biases: fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of those who were different, and fear of not being safe.  The chapter was a reminder that racism was pervasive and broadly accepted in America as recent as the mid-nineteenth century.  Today, the prejudicial views of our founding fathers would be unacceptable to most.

The chapter provided a vivid example of how bias can influence research.  Because Morton’s views were extreme compared to current societal norms, it’s easy to see how bias influenced his approach and findings.  Morton attempted to add credibility to his position by using an objective and methodologically sound approach, which was later debunked by Gould.

How can we know that research we conduct is balanced?  What about our own biases today?  We must be vigilant about objectivity in our research.  Elliot Eisner has some practical advice about objectivity in educational research including: striving to eliminate bias, focusing on the world rather than ourselves, being fair and open to all sides of an argument, using objective methods, and seeing things as they are.


Gould, S. J. (1981). American Polygeny and Craniometry before Darwin. In The Mismeasure of Man (pp. 30–72). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Eisner, E. (1992). Objectivity in Educational Research. Curriculum Inquiry, 22(1), 9–15.