It has often been noted that institutions of higher education are prone to “follow the leader” behavior, especially when it comes to innovation and the acceptance of new ideas. What the big-name institutions say, adopt and do is seen as providing a type of legitimacy that can be used as “cover” for decision-makers at lesser-known schools. If Harvard, Stanford or MIT are doing something new (say, MOOCs), then it’s seen as acceptable for others.
In taking note of such adoptions, the higher education news media does two things. First, it makes others aware that some form of innovation is being considered, or adopted by a pace-setter. This is seen in a positive light, as it can offer encouragement to others. However, there can also be an unintended consequence; this kind of coverage from the higher education news media unfortunately reinforces the public stereotype that higher education is incredibly slow-moving.
This effect is evident in the news media’s recent excitement around USC’s announcement of their new online MBA program. A similar example of brand-driven attention can be seen in the recent Arizona State-Starbucks announcement. While the media made much of this, many lesser-known institutions have had such college-employer relationships for decades. What made this one newsworthy was the combination of well-known brands coming together to extend access to employees who might not otherwise attend college. Unfortunately, some outlets made it sound as if there was something unique about business and education working together in this way.