All posts in Cultural Shift

Faculty v. Administrators: Neither Side Can Win


After an extended Easter weekend spent intentionally away from the headlines and smartphones, it was interesting to come back to a lot of hand-wringing over the economic model of higher education. This is hardly new, but it was interesting to see administrators worrying about rising costs of faculty members and little associated hope for increased productivity. Faculty members, in turn, argue that the growth in the number of administrators and their associated pay packages, is the real cost-driver in higher education. It seems to me that this debate is at the crux of the current economic troubles in higher education. And it is not going away.

This very impressive overview by Ann Kirschner in the Chronicle of Higher Education of the many issues besetting higher education and the rash of recent books that has recounted them, made me think more about the battle between faculty members and administrators. This is a zero-sum game. Higher education is changing fundamentally and quickly, and arguing about who is to blame isn’t going to change that.

Kirschner writes:

How long will it take for change to affect higher education in major ways? Just my crystal ball, but I would expect that institutions without significant endowments will be forced to change by 2020. By 2025, the places left untouched will be few and far between.

I agree with her crystal ball. That’s one reason this blog has the name it has! For my money, the growth in the academic badge movement, in particular, is a direct threat to the primacy of higher education and its domination of the market for credentials.

Against that narrative, almost everyone must change their ways, and that is going to mean pain on all sides. If the status quo continues, at most institutions, this ongoing debate will be little more than fighting over crumbs, and the world will pass by the combatants.

It comes to this: higher education is a timeless product, but that doesn’t mean the ways of teaching it and offering it should not change.

If everyone at a given institution can agree to that, then it might have a fighting chance.


The Future of Social Media in Higher Education – Part 1

This post is the first post in a three part series on the future of social media in higher education. These posts will be released over the next few weeks.

I spend a lot of time thinking about where social media is headed and also, what potential it has to continue to revolutionize the way we learn, communicate, and experience life. In fact I have been thinking about this for a long time and now it is part of my job. So in order to understand where we are going with this series, let me take you back to the beginning. In 2004 when I was a student at the University of Chicago we got thefacebook (now Facebook) – in fact we were one of the first schools in the country to get it. I like to say I was one of the first users – which probably isn’t that far off. I was probably user 23,147, but there is no way to know now. As the tech community likes to say – “I was one of the early adopters”. Don’t forget that Facebook was built by college students for college students.

I remember the day well – when I signed up and got to see if the girl I had met at a party had joined yet, just so I could remember her name. It was simple back then – social media was a way to get information about people. That was it. Now it has morphed into a brand driver, memory saver, and even shall I say it… lifestyle. Some people spend more than 10 hours a day on Facebook – they leave it on their computers when they work and study, and when they are on the go it’s on their phone.

I also remember the day when Facebook opened up the network to high school kids – I felt cheated, as if somehow Facebook had been tainted because my friend’s 13-year-old sister suddenly wanted to be friends with me. Things quickly went downhill from there, as the network exploded into the minds and onto the computers of over 800 million people. And with this growth the world changed – or well at least a lot of things changed.

I didn’t realize how much had changed until the summer of 2010, when I spent time traveling around east Africa. One day in the middle of July I was sitting in a tiny internet café in a small town in Tanzania – the computers were massive desktops and the dial up modems took about 5 minutes to connect. As I waited to check my email I looked around the café. At the seven other computers every single person was checking their Facebook profiles. Halfway around the world in the middle of Tanzania these people were glued to their screens laughing, chatting, and connecting with their friends.

Today Facebook and LinkedIn have hundreds of millions of users. Other social networks like Pinterest and Instagram are growing at tens of thousands of users a day. Social media has changed not only the way we communicate, but also the way we experience life, friends, and moments. Every moment can be captured and catalogued on a screen – with a mobile device in our pockets – and remembered by a server far away somewhere. When we need that memory we can just log on and find the picture, video, chat, post, or message.

What does this mean for higher education? For the ways we will learn in the future? Well imagine 800 million people learning together? Imagine higher ed institutions curating content and offering certifications through social networks? As we experience more and more of our lives online, higher education will continue to move deeper into social networks and there is an incredible opportunity for institutions that have the vision to drive this change.

In the second post we will dive deeper and look at the potential of social networking platforms within higher education.


photo courtesy of flickr user webtreats


Is a Campus a College when Everyone Studies Online?


We’ve written a lot lately about aspects of colleges that will have to change over the next few years, like admissions, and technology, and teaching styles. We have talked about some of the economic theories that help explain why this is occurring. We have also talked about some of the forces upholding the old model of higher higher education that has been resistant to change, such as marketing and accreditation (and here).

But what about the very core of your college: the campus?

A decade ago, colleges and universities were in a full-on building boom, creating dormitories and recreation centers to satisfy the newest generation of self-involved college student. The Internet boom made a lot of people wealthy, and that led to a golden age in college giving. Much of the money was directed to individual buildings that captured the imagination of the donors. But now, students aren’t influenced the way they once were by fancy new dormitories. Moreover, the students of the future are much more likely to take classes from several different institutions. On average, the students will be older, and may have other complications, like full-time jobs or families, that will make them see a college campus as immaterial to their needs.

In light of that, the majority of colleges and universities need to put a great deal of thinking into how to make their campuses more relevant to students. Some universities, such as the University of Colorado, are following the learning communities model followed most famously by the Ivy Leagues schools. More universities need to think of integrating student living with learning.

The residential institution will not necessarily disappear because the old model of living and learning on campus won’t disappear. Most 18-year-olds need the discipline, encouragement and support of professors or graduate assistants.  Unfortunately, the costs at these institutions will be prohibitive to most students, so this experience will likely fall to the more affluent.

Residential colleges and universities will have a market if they add value to the residential experience.  Residential colleges will need to formally recognize the skills and knowledge gained through the out-of-class experiences.  These skills include leadership, teamwork, public speaking, management and so forth.

We can imagine a “hybrid residential college” where most of the courses are online offerings from the nations’ greatest universities or instructors, but at each college, mentors of advisors work with the students to insure that they have a rich out-of-class experience, and that the learning continues in all kinds of creative ways after the lecture is over.

Along with rethinking student living space, colleges should also reconfigure learning spaces, using modular rooms and furniture to emphasize an openness to interdisciplinary study. Colleges should have meeting rooms of many different sizes, from 2 to 200, acknowledging that learning takes place in all kinds of groups.
Overall, universities need to be much more realistic about the way they view their campuses. Some have more space than they can use, and should consider selling some property or partnering with community groups or other colleges to make sure the space is gainfully used. The campus master plan — at most institutions, a 10-year planning document — should be subject to constant updating and change. Some universities are better at this than others.

Universities should focus on what parts of their campus hold the deepest meaning for their students, their alumni, and other constituencies. Those areas of campus are likely to hold in some way the memory of college that is so precious to many, and what they will carry with them the rest of their lives. Those areas of campus should be considered almost sacred.

But even within the most important parts of campus, colleges need to be aware of the statement they are making with their buildings. They should continue the commitment they have shown in recent years to sustainability, whether it takes the form of green roofs, composting toilets, or recycled building materials. The way that colleges use their buildings is watched closely by their idealistic students, and a commitment to reducing energy costs allows the college to make a visible and lasting commitment to ethics and integrity that will likely make much more of an impression than anything a professor or president ever says. With students spending less time on campuses, those limited chances to make an impression are more important than ever.


The Future Graduate School

Below is the presentation we gave recently at the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools on “The Graduate School of the Future”. There is some good data, as well as insights applicable to graduate schools as well as higher education generally.

College of 2020: The Future Graduate School

The Higher Education Marketing Crisis


At colleges and universities across the country, marketing departments are failing to differentiate their institutions in an increasingly complex and competitive higher education market.  There has never been a more critical time in higher education to stand out – the economic pressures are more stark and the race to get the best students, faculty, and resources has become more and more competitive. Branding continues to be a very hot topic in higher education, as many institutions struggle to find the right way to discover and articulate their distinct market position and competitively brand their institutions.

Over the next ten years, the strength of an institution’s marketing and branding will be the differentiator for which universities survive and thrive. Some colleges will close while students and faculty will continue to try to get into the school with the most recognizable name and valuable brand. So what’s the hope for everyone else? The biggest thing colleges can do is to claim and occupy their own distinct market position – the way to stand out is to do something that no one else does and be the best at it. Then you have to brand it, market it, and sell it. So who is going to help you do that? Well you see, that’s the problem – most marketing firms create pretty ads that look the same and say similar things to everyone else. Most marketing firms have no real marketing strategy.

Over the past year, I have noticed a sharp rise in the number of strategic marketing companies that provide brand related services – from copy, to logos, and advertisements. On their blogs and at their conference booths they talk a lot about “strategy” but when you dig a bit deeper it’s easy to see that “strategy” really means “communication” and not “branding” or “competitive” strategy. They will help you say something, but more than likely it won’t mean anything. Have you seen the recent Capella University ad campaign built around the word  “Matter.” What does that mean? It tells you nothing about the institution or what makes it unique. In fact, I would go as far to say that it offends prospective students – the only way you “Matter” is if you attend Capella. These campaigns, and others where you typically see a bunch of stock photos of students smiling, are happening all over the country and they are a symptom of the higher education marketing crisis.

So what’s a good example? Take a look at this brand positioning strategy for a top business school in China, The Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. The goal was to position CKGSB as not only a top business school in China, but as a top global business school that has an unrivaled understanding of business in China and the most influential alumni network. The “Know What’s Next” campaign art and taglines are conceptually meant to bridge East and West and showcase the increasing importance and role of the CKGSB in the global “one economy.”

In order for institutions to increase their competitiveness there needs to be a direct and distinct correlation between the product, the experience, and the positioning. Most strategic marketing companies don’t analyze what really makes an institution distinct in the market – from the product, to experience, to outcomes, to impact, to perceptions.  “Strategy” needs to go beyond communications and perception management. Institutions need to sell what makes them unique. Higher education is becoming more and more market driven – so sell something different. Not just the same pretty picture and cheeky tagline.


A Good Fit: Rethinking College Admissions

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I have a friend who used to be the brand manager for Kingsford charcoal. One day, he was asking his team: “Who is our competition?” His team piped up: Royal Oak? Store brands?

No, my friend replied. Our competition isn’t another charcoal. It’s the gas grill. Cooking out is a lifestyle choice, with all of kinds of positive feelings associated with it — time with friends, fun, fresh air. And our potential customers are switching to gas, and getting all those same benefits without ever purchasing our product again. To keep its customers, Kingsford had to talk about authenticity, smoky flavor, the benefits of the real grilling experience rather than the rather soul-less expedience of gas grills.

Similarly, I was talking with a marketer for a chain of grocery stores in St. Louis. Who was the competition? Not the other four significant chains in that market. Their competition, as they saw it, was the proliferation of places to buy groceries: Target, Wal-Mart, every gas station with a mini-mart that sold milk and hamburger buns. The grocery store’s position was being diluted by all the other ways customers could get the same products while making fewer stops.

These are just examples of different ways of thinking about your markets. So, colleges and universities, who is your competition for students?

Is it the peer schools or neighboring institutions you have always competed against? Undoubtedly, yes, but to a lesser degree all the time. As the competitive landscape changes in higher education, students are not so much comparing colleges against one another as they are thinking about how college fits into their lifestyles. In a world of many choices, convenience is an ever-more-important factor.

In a previous blog post, we posited that when colleges take to heart that the competition in higher education has changed forever, it will allow them to think about their various operations in new and innovative ways. The competition is changing all the time — to really understand how and why students might think to come to your college, you need to think of college as a transaction in the same way they do.

The changing needs and desires of student for access to college courses will only grow in coming years. More students will attend college part-time, online, take courses from multiple universities, and jump into and out of college. Students simultaneously will want to be enrolled in some courses online and others in person.

For the sake of stability and planning, it will be imperative for most colleges to continue to identify a core of students who will attend college full-time and make use of the faculty, classrooms, libraries, and other facilities that colleges have created. However, this more itinerant population of students must be catered to as well if a college is to be seen as progressive and flexible, qualities that will be increasingly in demand.

Colleges need to remember who their competition is, and realize that they are competing for a student’s attention with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other options. The first job for traditional colleges is to drill down and define what makes them different, and is a unifying theme for going forward. (More on this in the next blog post on Marketing)

Perhaps most importantly, colleges need to get better at finding students who are a good fit, and are likely to stay at the college they choose. Many smaller colleges are in the habit of paying tens of thousands of dollars to consulting and marketing firms who find potential students for them. But as many as three-quarters of those students don’t return for a second year. And the process  of churning up a new class starts all over again. If a good student fit could be identified in the first place, focus could shift to finding out what students need to succeed and then doing it, rather than the overwhelming focus on the pipeline of students.

In the next decade, the number of high school graduates will essentially stay the same. So colleges need to find new student markets to tap:

  • Reach out to minority students. Research shows that, at some point, probably just after 2020, minority students will outnumber white students for the first time. The fastest-growing minority group is Hispanics, but they disproportionately attend community colleges and for-profit institutions. The major reason is that Hispanics are frequently less-prepared for college-level work. High-school graduation rates are much lower for members of every minority group except Asian-Americans. Colleges need to reach out to these groups in many ways, if ways that emphasize success. Could colleges explicitly offer a five-year program, in which the first year is entirely remedial?
  • Adult learners. Through 2018, projections show that the population of college students age 18 to 24 will increase by 9 percent, but the population of students age 25 to 34 will increase by 25 percent, and for students older than 35, by 12 percent. How much is your institution doing to target adult students, and what more could it be doing? Adult students usually attend part-time and often don’t come on campus at all. So they are not much of a stress on campus facilities. Yet many colleges are startlingly insensitive to them. Colleges don’t give them a break on tuition, don’t have counseling programs that address the unique needs to adult students, or even give them places to store belongings or meet similar-age students when they do come to campus. Colleges need to think how they are reaching out to this increasingly important constituency.

Perhaps most importantly, colleges need to really go deep inside themselves and think as a community about what their competitive advantages are, what they do especially well, and how can they communicate that to their potential students.

The market for college educations has fundamentally changed, and, increasingly, so has the way your customers think about how they will attain it. Again, colleges, who are you? What makes you special? In a world full of gas, what’s your charcoal?


Next post: Marketing


Notes from an Uncomfortable Chair


Higher education needs to come up with some new ways to talk about change and success. OK, call me grouchy, but I’ve been ruminating about two recent higher-education conferences I attended. Both had good speakers and good information, but both also showed why higher education is stuck in a deepening rut.

Let me start with the most recent one, a conference on The Future of Higher Education, held at The New School earlier this month. The event featured an impressive list of speakers, including some of the key thinkers about reforming higher education: James Duderstadt, Henry Bienen, and Robert Zimmer, among others. So why did it have such a stifling format? More than 8 hours of speeches in a large lecture hall, kind of like the ones undergraduates sit in for your average 100-level course. Isn’t that the very definition of the failed educational approach?

Much was made of the fact that only one woman was on the speaker’s roster (mind-boggling, given the increasing gap between the number of female and male undergraduates). I can accept the public apologies of the organizers, who recognized the gender gap and explained that all of the other women invited to be there could not attend. But what of the format? If you are going to throw a conference to talk about new ways of approaching and engaging an increasingly skeptical audience, wouldn’t it pay to show how it could be done? Even Vijay Kumar, the director of the office of Educational Innovation and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could do no better than a static Power Point demonstration. This, from the leaders of the Open Course Ware revolution!

To know what is around then corner, higher education audiences need to experience what the change will mean. The eureka moment is not going to come amongst droning male voices from a distant stage, but it may come in an immersive virtual-reality demonstration. Please people: Show, don’t tell.

I also went to a conference on higher education marketing in Chicago last month, held by the American Marketing Association. I was struck by how much people talked about new challenges in measuring quality. Yet, almost every speaker from a somewhat-obscure college started by talking about their institution’s U.S. News rankings.

Others complained about the financial difficulties they are facing, caused in part by the record-high percentage of financial aid they have to give away in order to get students to enroll. But then many speakers from individual colleges talked of their record numbers of applicants, caused no doubt by churning for students beyond the college’s typical profile, and then having to pay them big dollars to enroll. High enrollment numbers area fleeting measure of success.

At another session, attendees nodded their heads in agreement as a speaker told them that the real growth in students in the near future will be older adults. Yet, almost every marketing campaign discussed at the conference was geared toward 18-24 year-olds.

It seems like we need to find some new models of success. How about:

— Wide ranging articulation agreements between free-standing private four-year colleges and community colleges?

— An arrangement in which College A works out dual enrollment with College B, whereby the strongest majors in College A accept students from College B, while College A sends its students to College B for its strongest majors. It recognizes that every college cannot be strong in every subject, but builds alliances between like-minded institutions that benefit from collective strength.

There are many more models for success. But that’s not the point of this post. My point is not to criticize event organizers — their jobs are hard, and they can’t control everything that speakers say. My point is that for colleges to move forward, they cannot depend on old styles or old measures of success. If the model of higher education is going to change significantly, the way of talking about it has to change, too.


A.I. Replacing the College Professor?


The end of face-to-face college instruction!

That is the startling scenario that a panel contemplated Thursday night as a forum opened on The Future of Higher Education at The New School University in New York.

Looking 20 to 30 years out, “The wealthiest institutions will continue to provide face to face instruction. Other universities will not be able to afford to deliver instruction face-to-face any longer,” said Neil Grabois, former provost of Williams College and president of Colgate University. He is now dean of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School.

Grabois said he envisions classrooms with holograms of instructors and an increased use of artificial intelligence to assist individual students. The technology for such a classroom is under development.

Other panelists piled on. “Our modes of teaching are really obsolete,” said Jamshed Bharucha, president of Cooper Union. “The way most teaching is done is not aligned with how the brain works. The dirty little secret of learning is that you forget.”

Many college instructors dump knowledge into students as if it will be retained forever, said Bharucha. But students would retain more if teaching was more interactive and interdisciplinary, and more enveloped in technology. “The precious time in a classroom should be used in a more dynamic way than we are using it now.”

The changes are coming to a head because of the unsustainable cost structure of higher education and the growing backlash of students and parents against increasing costs (The session was marked by angry outbursts by students against Matthew Goldstein, president of the City University of New York, which just imposed another series of tuition increases.Goldstein was also on the panel).

“We have brought a lot of this on ourselves,” said Grabois. Somehow, the mission of universities “has changed from the social good to the private good.” Looking through the history of higher education, “at times of large change, those are times when pedagogical changes are almost imposed on us if we don’t do it ourselves.”


It Won’t be Easy, But We Can Make Accreditation Useful

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If higher education is really to change, barnacle-encrusted traditions like accreditation need to change, too.

But this won’t be so easy. The process of becoming accredited should be a rigorous process that should add a stamp of approval to the educational product, and prevent fraud by fly by night operators and taxpayers. But the process also needs to be more transparent and consumer-friendly. If colleges are going to spend so much time and money on the process, can’t they use it to give some basic facts, such as graduation rates, job placement rates, academic performance, even financial stability. The accreditation process will only mean something when outsiders actually have some idea of how it is done.

Some argue that the accreditation process is THE major barrier to reform in higher education. But what would higher education be without it?  To drop the process altogether would be to invite even more unscrupulous businesses in to pursue the billions of dollars in financial aid available and leave their students with worthless credentials.

The public-policy answer in recent years has been to use standardized testing to assess mastery of a a subject. But one of the greatest strengths of American higher education is its diversity. We don’t want every college and university teaching to a test, and planning its curriculum to match everyone else’s. We should expect that students receiving a degree have mastered the topic, but not a mastery mandated by the government.

Some aspects of the current system strike me as correct. Higher education is a highly complex endeavor where each degree is structured to meet the perceived needs of the profession and businesses. To some degree, the best judges of effective instruction are others steeped in the recent practice and literature of Best Practices.

That said, the process still needs to be reformed. At the very least, the accreditation process must be more open. The self-studies by individual institutions are often shelved in the school libraries. They ought be on the college Website.

Accreditation teams should be professionalized and made more independent — that would go a long way toward resolving the inherent conflicts of the existing system, where administrators in very insulated professions are attesting to the work of their peers, and everyone understands the resulting reports will never become public anyway. One hand washes the other, and no one on the outside ever knows.

Most importantly, the accreditation reports must be made public. If colleges and universities, even private ones, want to take advantage of federal loan programs, they must be responsible for their behavior. Sure, very few people will read the reports, and some may not understand every word, but that’s beside the point. Consumers are owed the option of knowing the most they possibly can about an institution where they are about to make one of the biggest investments of their lives.

The accreditation process could be a valuable support for higher education. Let’s bring it out of the shadows.


The College Experience: Preserving Culture


I remember the snow falling on the quad and my friend Allen muttering “The only people for me are the mad ones.” He had recently read Kerouac’s On The Road and was convinced that people around him weren’t really living… “like really living, man,” he said. It was the middle of the night and The University of Chicago campus, with its ivy, and benches, Gothic towers, and sidewalks – was like a turn of the century movie set. We were playing the part of the college freshmen, questioning the purpose of our education and the American Dream. We had worked hard, but we were lucky.

It was a visceral experience. I remember the way it smelled, the sound of our feet crunching the snow, and the way the coffee in my hand tasted. There are many memories I have from back then, but this is the one that follows me – the memory that reminds me of questioning, but still believing that anything is possible. We had showed up on campus that fall with some experiences, ideas, and a whole lot of wonder. It was as close to magic as I have ever come. A bit dramatic? So what…it was all dramatic. The conversations, the all-nighters, the parties with so much energy and excitement you could’ve packaged it up and powered the whole city, and time – yes time. There was time to think, time to do what you wanted to do, time to explore, time to meet people, time to dream, and time to really… grow.

The experience is different for everyone, but I am certain there are similarities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the recent high school graduates enrolled in college in October 2010, 90.4 percent were full-time students. Colleges have cultures and when the unique forces and people on a campus come together they create the college experience. It has a lot to do with the physical campus – where on many campuses students come from all over the city, country, or globe to live, eat, sleep, study, and socialize. College campuses are the ultimate communities. At The University of Chicago I had dozens of friends who lived within one mile of me and there were no parents, very few rules, and an institution that fostered intellectual and social inquiry. But, wow did the winters get cold . And the food was mediocre at best. It’s all part of the memory. The institution of going to college, exploring your next step, and taking the time to ease into the real-world is truly an experience.

Will the College of 2020 be like this? Sure, some institutions will be able to preserve their culture and cultivate these types of experiences. But others will have a harder time. Expensive small private colleges are trying to find the best way to be competitive in the market and get students and resources, but without question, some of these institutions will not survive. An even larger concern is online programs – which are making it easier for students to learn remotely, but also taking them away from campus. Of course there are significant advantages to institutions offering more online programs, but we don’t need to get into that here. As more and more students demand online classes, I hope they know what they are missing on campus. There are experiences to be had and memories to made everywhere – but there is something special, perhaps magic, that happens on a college campus.

As higher education professionals we spend so much time thinking about the data, the outcomes, and the trends. It’s important to step back and remember that at the core of each institution is a distinct culture – one that creates memories. That’s the college experience.