Friday Focus: UAF's value proposition

headshot of a man
UAF photo by JR Ancheta

Nov. 19, 2021

— by Dan White, chancellor

I can buy everything I need online and have it delivered to my door. Groceries, clothing (a blue and gold tie for example), tires for my car, even a car, if I were in the market for one. I could relax in a chair and order all my week’s groceries online and find them at my door in two to three days or sooner if I ordered it to be delivered by a local vendor. What a great value proposition. I have thousands of vendors I can select from or I can rely on Amazon to organize vendors and products for me in a way that I get the benefit of their economies of scale. 

Furthermore, I get the benefit of the vendors’ time and gas in delivering products to my door and at about the same price I could buy them at the local grocery store (which would happen at the expense of my own gas money, and wear and tear on my own car and on me). To top it off, if I don’t like the items, most online orders now arrive with a preprinted return label! Wow, why would I do anything else?

But I do, all the time. Well, most all of the time. So why do I still find myself over the period of a week at Fred Meyer (West) AND Fred Meyer (East), Safeway, Costco AND the Co-op? Why do I make a special trip to the Alaska Feed Store or Cold Spot Feeds to buy some dog food even though they carry the same or similar brands at one of the other four stores I visited this week? Well, it all comes down to the value proposition. 

For starters, while I could buy everything online, I like to shop local from people I know and in most cases I still like to see what I am buying. I like to decide for myself if the apples are ripe or the lettuce is wilted. I like to judge the weight distribution of a hammer or an ax, and I like to buy my dog food where I can also get some local advice about the right skijoring harness.  

Second, location. If I happen to be near one store or another and I want to save a few minutes not driving across town, there is the value proposition. I might also want to support a locally owned business by buying my Spinach Creek Farm carrots at the Roaming Root. Or freshness — that is a factor too. The bottom line is that my shopping is based on the value proposition – impacted by the when, where, what, why and how of the item and the particulars of the situation. 

Our students have options too. There is a universe of choices available to students and at all different prices. And in spite of the thousands of online options (that transfer seamlessly) our enrollment is holding steady. Students like the value proposition UAF offers! And while classes are not groceries, they are both things people pay for. They look at the options and consider for each option the sticker price, the short- and long-term benefits, and the aid available (whether that be scholarships or coupons). These together contribute to the value proposition.

Some students choose to live at home or in the residence halls and take all online courses, some from us and some from other universities. Others choose to live in a residence hall and take all their courses in person. It all depends on each individual’s value proposition — what experience they want, what their goals are, where they are in life and what their other obligations may be. 

UAF offers many different experiences for students. We offer a research university at the Troth Yeddha’ Campus, a community and technical college, rural campuses in Nome, Dillingham, Kotzebue and Bethel, as well as learning centers throughout Alaska. Those choosing the value proposition of the research campus, with faculty who are part of a world-class research enterprise, seek that experience on Troth Yeddha’. Those interested in adding critical workforce skills and credentials to their toolbox may choose a CTC program. The price is different, the benefits are different, and the value proposition is different. Both are valuable for sure.

Just as Fred Meyer, the Co-op, Safeway, Costco, Walmart and Amazon online do not have the same price for the same item, we too are differentiating (tuition). And just like the member discounts, fuel points or other incentives that are offered by Costco or Fred Meyer, the financial aid packages available across UAF’s different units are  different. The price will be higher at the Troth Yeddha’ Campus next year, but so will the financial aid. In fact, the price will only increase for first- and second-year students, and more than half of these students will be receiving new financial aid higher than the increase in tuition. It is all part of the value proposition.

And, just because I could probably get all my groceries at comparable prices online and delivered to my door from an online vendor, I still shop local. The small community of Fairbanks sustains not just one Fred’s but two, two Safeways, a Walmart, a Costco, a co-op, the Roaming Root and a myriad of gas station convenience stores. 

It is true, more often than I probably should I buy an ice cream bar at a gas station. The value proposition is heavily in favor of the here and now of the gas station freezer (even though ice cream bars might be cheaper at Costco). My eyes and my stomach collaborate to tip the balance of that value proposition to the Holiday, Sourdough Fuel, Speedway, Tesoro or any of the other places that strategically locate a freezer full of ice cream by the register. For that ice cream bar at that moment in time, convenience drives my value proposition. 

Online options have not put local grocers out of business, and no one has put the gas station groceries out of business. Each is different, each serves me in different ways, and each has value to me, depending on the who, what, when, where and why. And of course, the key to attracting me to a business is the experience. Sometimes I want a lot of information and help. Sometimes I go straight to what I want and self-checkout. Sometimes I order online. 

As a university with lots of options, we have the unique opportunity to meet students where they are. Not everyone everywhere, but we have a robust set of options to meet the value propositions of many in Alaska and across the world, remotely or in person. Troth Yeddha’ offers different things in different ways than CTC. We work together to be the best value proposition to the students we serve. We are all UAF. The video that was made for convocation this year spoke volumes to many about the value proposition of UAF, in all its different forms.

Thanks for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.