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We can find valuable reminders of how to be successful almost anywhere we look, if we’re always on the lookout for them. The country’s private colleges offer a good case in point.

For years there have been dire predictions that the bargain-price tuitions offered at our heavily-subsidized public universities would push the smaller, more expensive private colleges out of the marketplace. Interestingly, so far, the pundits have been dead wrong.

The fact is enrollment at private colleges has hit an all-time high this academic year. And, that’s happened in spite of the worst economic climate in recent history, an economy that should be hammering enrollments at the traditionally high-priced private schools. Why, then, are they experiencing such success?

In two words, the answer is “serving students.” So says Donald R. Eastman, III, president of Eckerd College, a private liberal arts institution. It seems like every big public university these days wants to be a research university, developing more and more graduate programs while diminishing the focus on undergraduate students. Classes are large. There’s little student-professor interaction or mentoring. Even very difficult courses, like organic chemistry, are taught in large lecture halls. Moreover, public universities also see their mission as economic development. It all leads to reducing seats and focus on undergraduate students.

On the other hand, private colleges by definition have a single focus on undergraduate education. Small classes, access to a full-time faculty and personal student mentoring/advising are all the strengths of the private college. Interestingly, 79 percent of all graduates from private colleges get their degree in four years, while only 49 percent do so at the public universities, according to Eastman.

It’s not my intention to impeach public universities. I’m a proud graduate of Indiana University. My point is that small private colleges are flourishing, not dying, because they have remained single-minded in their mission of educating undergraduates. They know precisely why they’re in business and their focus on serving their “customer” is unwavering.

Just as the small colleges can be successful because they recognize who they serve, so can our boat dealerships when we identify the same thing. A big public university can excel in some areas, of course, but that will likely be at the expense of other areas. Similarly, our dealerships cannot be everything to everyone, either. Once again it brings home the importance lesson of positioning our dealerships in the marketplace by determining who our customers will and will not be, and then making service to them the hub of our business operation. Success – it always comes back to serving customers! ?

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