Blockbuster—the store that wouldn’t change.
Many people have used Blockbuster as an illustration of a store that didn’t recognize the times and make appropriate changes. The organization refused to acknowledge Netflix or Redbox as a threat to its existence. After all, Blockbuster was the best known name in the business.
That’s only part of the story. Blockbuster actually did try to change. They launched Blockbuster Online and did away with annoying late fees that every customer hated. However, the company faltered when launching a new initiative online, and ending a very profitable late fee system created short-term profitability issues. Consequently, an internal struggle began that resulted in the departure of CEO John Antioco and the reversal of both new strategies, which sealed the long-term fate of Blockbuster.
Change is hard. People don’t like it. We don’t like it. I don’t like it. I like my routines, and I function best when keeping them.
Yet, I want to challenge us all to be open to change — not in our doctrine or our distinctives. We can’t change our message (the Gospel), but we can change our methods. Not every idea will be good. Some ideas will need further development. Implementing even the best ideas will be hard because change is hard.
Every year I see reports of colleges and universities going out of business, with Saint Joseph’s in Indiana being the latest. I hear of many more struggling to make ends meet, with hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in budget gaps. The Chronicle of Higher Education just released an article on 177 private colleges that fail the educations department’s financial responsibility test. Tuition discounting continues to skyrocket at institutions that have, out of necessity, abandoned a long-term look toward the future in order to fight for survival each and every year. When we talk with potential students, they compare our financial aid to that of struggling schools and wonder why we don’t offer more. Many college students accrue large amounts of debt, leading others to question whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Books are being written with titles like The End of College and Fail U. Add the competition from Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) options and other forms of free online delivery of information, and you can see that we face many challenges.
As such, we cannot afford to preserve things the way we have always done them; we must look to find efficiency and ways to cut costs, without losing effectiveness across the University. We must decide that change now may be necessary and appropriate in order to keep our institution positioned where it needs to be moving forward into the future. For instance, we may decide that adding new programs, whether graduate or not, is a good idea. We may decide that ending a few struggling programs strengthens the institution overall. We will consider all options — flexible format graduate programs, certifications, continuing education, associate degrees, adult education, LLCs, College Now partnerships with homeschool networks or Christian schools, maximizing three-year degrees, and more — then we’ll do what makes sense.
Success requires that we change together. We must learn from Blockbuster in two ways. First, we must constantly look for ways to improve our University and solidify its strong position against future challenges. Second, as we discover things we can do better, additional revenue streams, new programs, new delivery methods, or new ways of operating, we cannot allow internal conflict to create an environment that deters exploring ways to improve. If we encourage keeping everything the way it has always been, then we repeat the mistakes of Blockbuster.
To be clear, Cedarville University has never been stronger financially. We forecast finishing yet another year in the black. Our program review system is robust. Our numbers for fall 2017 enrollment are stronger than in recent years and are on track to meet or exceed expectations. Our discount rate is lower than most. By God’s grace, we are positioned well. Yet, so was Blockbuster at one point in time. With many predicting that the education bubble will eventually burst, let us not rest with things as they have been. Let us position ourselves to thrive tomorrow by looking for ways to be better today.
Most importantly, let us be found good and faithful stewards as we stand for the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.
In Christ Alone,
Dr. Thomas White
John Antioco, “How I Did it: Blockbuster’s Former CEO on Sparring with an Activist Shareholder,” Harvard Business Review, April 2011. https://hbr.org/2011/04/how-i-did-it-blockbusters-former-ceo-on-sparring-with-an-activist-shareholder
 Chis Quintana and Joshua Hatch, “177 Private Colleges Fail Education Dept.’s Financial-Responsibility Test.” March 8, 2017. http://www.chronicle.com/article/177-Private-Colleges-Fail/239436?cid=trend_au&elqTrackId=e7b5a79a45f545a3bd4d66641147aa45&elq=038fc48134ab40d589c5d1daeb66c7fa&elqaid=12893&elqat=1&elqCampaignId=5314