Sep 2019

How Choosing a College Is Like Buying a Milkshake

By Jeffrey R. Young     Sep 19, 2019

What if colleges applied the same kind of market research techniques that fast-food giants like McDonald’s use to improve their offerings? What might they learn about what students really want that could help university officials improve the experience? And could it help students themselves better understand what they want out of higher ed?

Those are the questions guiding a new book by Michael Horn, called “Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life.” He starts with a framework popularized by a famous Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, that was used by McDonald’s to help improve its milkshakes (for one thing, they made them thicker, to last longer, after they found that one reason people bought milkshakes was to kill time on a daily commute). And Horn applies that theory to the process of selecting a college to see what happens.

This might seem like a strange mix, but it flows pretty naturally from Horn’s own career journey. He spent part of his career as a director for the Clayton Christensen Institute, where this framework emerged. One of his many roles today is serving as chief strategy officer for Entangled Solutions, a consulting and investing firm in the college sector. So he’s steeped in business language and theory.


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