Why Student Implementations Never Meet Expectations – Introduction

A Five-Part Series

Part 01: Why Student Implementations Never Meet Expectations

“Transformation!” “Modernization!” “Flexible!” “Saves Time and Money!” “Allows you to do what you need to do!” 

You’ve heard all of these promises and more from SIS vendors who meet us at conferences, send us their videos, and respond to our RFIs. You sign on the dotted line, get millions of dollars worth of funding, and find an implementation partner who promises to transform your world. You get excited to start your SIS transformation initiative. 

Fast forward to two years later.

Your implementation is nearly out of funds, and you are nowhere near going live on schedule. Even if you do go live, the new software will take years of modifications before you will even be able to support many of the critical processes you were doing in your legacy system on the day you held your first kick-off meeting. As a result, time, money, and careers are all wasted and broken, and your institution is less able to operate than it was 24 months ago.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way! So, what happened? 

Based on over 20 years of observing and studying the maker, we have identified five common reasons SIS implementations never meet expectations:

Reason 1: The Expected Transformation Is Not Clearly Defined

Reason 2: Lack of Leadership

Reason 3: Poor Decision-making 

Reason 4: Pseudo Investments 

Reason 5: SIS Implementation Driven by External Players

Over the next few days, we will dive deeper into these five reasons and some preventative steps you can take. We will close out the series with guidance on how to generate uncomfortable conversations with your SIS teams and hopefully set you on a new path toward true student-centric transformation. 

Don’t like to wait? Neither does innovation. Download the full five-part article here:

Are You as Student-Centric as You Think You Are?

A few weeks ago, Inside Higher Education ran an article describing a survey of course catalogs from 30 Community Colleges. The survey* found the catalogs were bulky, hard to use, with lots of policy and industry jargon. The texts were dense, written by academics for academics. New students found it difficult to understand what classes they needed for their majors, what the costs were, what each class contained, or how it was delivered.

I am sure the administrators for each of those colleges would identify as student-centric and committed to their students’ success but think about a student who is the first in their family to attend college, who has no knowledge of college jargon, where to go to get their questions answered, or that they even could go anywhere to get answers.

For these students, the catalog is a hurdle, not a path. Here, at the first step of many students’ college career, they must climb over a wall constructed by the very same administrators claiming to be committed to their success.

Hidden Hurdles

Being student-centric is not about installing software. It is about developing a constant, relentless focus on the student at every step of every process. It means keeping eyes open for barriers that we as administrators, teachers, and consultants, unknowingly create (like the course catalog.) To be truly student-centric, we need to have a clear understanding of our students’ needs and get rid of the hidden hurdles we have mistakenly overlooked.

How can you find these hidden hurdles?

  • Firstly, and most obviously, ask your students. Talk to all different types of students; older students, ethnic students, mid-career students, 18-year-olds, veterans, and students with physical challenges. Don’t ask how they interact with your technology. Ask about their experience in your institution from beginning to end. Ask how they interact with your school, your processes, and your people. Have the courage to ask what they find difficult and the integrity to listen to their answers.
  • Secondly, complete the business process yourself as if you were a student. Don’t read the procedure or ask a staff member—complete the process as a student would. For example, travel the road your students must follow to register for a semester. Read your catalog, figure out what classes you need to take for your major, and try to enroll. Call the help desk and ask a question. Pay your fee. What was your experience? What went well and what didn’t? What can you change? Step into the shoes of your students and watch your organization transform.
  • Thirdly, bring in a third-party to help you look for hidden hurdles in policy, processes, and technology. Do you make your students go to different places to solve parts of the same problem? Do you have a process in place to keep the same problem from happening again? A fresh perspective can identify issues that you had previously been blind to.

Ask Yourself “Why?”

Don’t leave a process in place because “we’ve always done it this way.” The goal is to make each process as frictionless for the student as possible. One way to do this is to ask “Why?” 5 times. The “5 Whys” is an iterative but powerful technique developed by Sakichi Toyoda. It is based on the idea you can’t arrive at the root cause of a problem or a process until you ask a “why” question at least five times.

For example, when examining a step in your registration process you might ask, “Why does the student fill out this paper form?” The answer might be “We need the information.” Then ask, “Why do you need this information?” Repeat this sequence of “whys” and answers and by the fifth “why” you have either discovered the form is vital or its not needed at all.

If the information is needed, find out if it is captured somewhere else and you can keep the student from having to fill out a form. If it isn’t needed you can get rid of the form and reduce friction for both students and staff. Either way you have released the time and energy spent on supporting a form to supporting a student.

Software Enables, But People Transform

Becoming a student-centric institution is a journey, not a destination. Installing “student success” software is only one step along the way. Software only enables what you currently do. By itself, software won’t eliminate the barriers your students must overcome and transform your institution. People drive transformation. Being truly student-centric is a result of everyone in your faculty, staff, and administration seeing your institution through your students’ eyes and having the power to remove every barrier they find—no matter how steeped in tradition it is. Only then can you transform into a student-centric institution.

* The survey was completed by Terry O’Banion is a senior professor of practice at Kansas State University and president emeritus of the League for Innovation in the Community College. Cindy Miles is a professor of practice at Kansas State University and chancellor emerita at Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District. Rick Voorhees, principal and senior scholar with the Voorhees Group, for assistance in identifying their research study sample.

What Clubhouse Has Taught Me In Just One Month

A New Social App That Offers Real, Genuine Connection

Clubhouse is a new social networking app that launched in May of 2020. The developers describe the app as “a space for casual, drop-in audio conversations,” but after using it myself for almost a month, I have quickly learned that it is much more than that.

Social media platforms have always boasted about their ability to connect people, share information, and learn about each other, but they rarely achieve these things. And if they do achieve them, it’s only halfway. Conversations (though they happen fast) don’t happen in real-time and words get lost in translation or cut short by a character limit. Meaningful, valuable connections are rare. Clubhouse changes that.

The real-time voice chat of Clubhouse eliminates that loss of context, tone, and meaning, making the conversations that happen on the app more valuable, clear, and collaborative. It’s like an in-person networking event, except better because you have access to people across the world, not just the people in the same physical space with you.

In less than one month of using Clubhouse, I have learned a lot about the app and the power it has. Here are the top ten things that Clubhouse has taught me:

1. Your Voice Matters

Everyone’s voice matters, Clubhouse has given everyone a platform to express their thoughts, perspectives, and ideas. 

2. Everyone Belongs

No matter who you are and what you are passionate about, there is a community waiting for you.

3. There’s Power In Diversity

One of the reasons organizations stagnate is they surround themselves with people who look the same, who have the same background, same experiences, and same perspectives. However, Clubhouse shows us the power that diverse thought has to build a better world.

4. Listening Is a Powerful Tool for Personal Growth 

Too often, we live in a world where we want to be heard, but Clubhouse teaches us that everyone has powerful insight worth listening to, even if they don’t have a prestigious title or a leadership role. Listening is the most important part of having a valuable conversation.

5. The World Is Connected 24/7

With Clubhouse’s Global community, we are able to collaborate 24/7 and work together to understand and solve each other’s problems. 

6. It’s Important To Be Clear and Concise

With rooms ranging from ten to thousands of people, Clubhouse teaches us the importance of getting to the point. Beating around the bush isn’t valuable or productive. With the ability to add a short personal profile, there is no need to introduce ourselves and our backgrounds. Getting to the point in a clear and concise manner makes for a powerful contribution.

7. Everyone Has a Role They Can Play

In Clubhouse, you can play any role you are comfortable with—moderator, speaker, or just a listener. These roles enable us to create platforms on topics for audiences of thousands or a private room for only two people.

8. It’s a Give and Take Environment

To flourish and grow, you have to give to Clubhouse as much as you take. The strength of Clubhouse is that it encourages everyone to be a part of the discussion. And for the topic to thrive, you need to participate with your voice as well as be a part of the audience who is listening in to the diverse perspectives of the others.

9. Two-Way Discussions Are Better Than One-Way

In a world of one-way presentations, lectures, and webinars, Clubhouse is showing us that hosting the voices of individuals who are passionate about the topic and listening to what they have to say is more powerful than speaking at them and asking for input later.

10. Multitasking Is Encouraged

Clubhouse is a 24/7 ecosystem. We all have responsibilities and priorities that need our attention, but that doesn’t stop us from listening in. Discussions can be put in the background like a radio while we do other things, and we can jump in when we can.

All these things come together to create genuine connections in a way that hasn’t been done by social media in recent years, or possibly ever.

Honorable Mentions

False Spins Are Checked by the Community

In a world driven by sales and marketing spin, the ability to have a live narrative allows us to call out the imposters and shed light on false or manipulative spins.  

Your Network Is a Powerful Tool

To build anything you are passionate about, you need a supportive network. Your network is not just your community, but anyone who can help you achieve goals or simply share in your passions.

Change Is Here

All the discussions that I have been a part of on Clubhouse have shown that the world is constantly changing and that change is happening faster than ever. Platforms like this one are a big part of that.

Your Voice Is Your New Look

Because Clubhouse is an audio-only platform, it eliminates most of the vanity that exists on other platforms and puts your voice front and center. 

There Are Unwritten Rules:

  • Turning your mic on and off repeatedly is like “clapping” to show support or encouragement.
  • Adding a host or guest to an event without permission from the room’s creator is frowned upon, even though the app allows you to do so. Be courteous!
  • Wait your turn. You will get your chance to speak, but listen first.
  • State your name when you start speaking and when you stop. This helps the folks who are hearing-impaired and using closed captions.
  • Everyone has the right to speak and offer their perspective. Titles don’t matter; passion does.

About Clubhouse

Right now, the Clubhouse app is still in beta, and new users need an invite to join. Each user receives two invites when they sign up and this method of adding new users has spread like wildfire. The number of users has jumped from 600,000 in December 2020 to 10 million in February 2021. It’s quite possible that everyone will have Clubhouse before the app’s official release. It’s a testament to how great this platform is, and also how innovative. 

Clubhouse didn’t wait around until everything was completed to be shared with the world—they don’t even have a website yet. The app already has millions of users, but those users are also beta testers, and the improvements made based on their feedback will undoubtedly make this app user-friendly and sustainably successful.

The conversations that are happening all day, every day on Clubhouse are truly amazing. If two heads are better than one, imagine what 10 million can do. 

To learn more about Clubhouse, you can click here

If you’re already on Clubhouse, follow me! My handle is @mattalex5. I’m participating in conversations about the Future of Higher Ed every day. I would love for you to join me.

If you don’t have an invite yet, finding someone who is using the app and can invite you is getting easier every day. Reach out to your network on Twitter or LinkedIn; I’m sure you’ll be joining conversations very soon.

Don’t Let Technology Drive Your Transformation

Higher Education is on a jet-powered ride to a brand-new world and the models schools have used to run their institutions for decades simply don’t work anymore. To survive and thrive, every institution must transform some, or all, of the ways it operates.

Technology Mistaken for Innovation

For many leaders, transformation means installing the newest software. But, in the end, all they have done is attach new-world technology to old-world processes, and they are no better off than when they started. These leaders miss opportunities to forge new paths, to set new goals, to rise to the challenges of the new world around them.

This technology-based approach to transformation in higher education is driven by the Consultant/Vendor/IT complex with its iron triangle of vendor-partner consultants, technology vendors, and university IT shops. Many consultants have a vested interest with partner software vendors and will try to convince schools that their future success and sustainability depends on selecting their preferred vendor’s software.

Generally, IT shops are structured to do one thing—install and support software. Academic leadership has bought into the concept that change and innovation are purely based on technology, so they are all too ready to listen to what their IT group recommends. They are eager to accept the consultant’s recommendation that a new software is what is needed to move their school forward—but that is not always the case.

Over and over again, institutions reach out to consultants and get the same answer: “Buy this new software! It will solve all your problems!” It’s an answer that excites institutional leadership. As a result, they purchase the software.

The mandate for “transformation” is driven through the whole organization. For up to two years the institution works hard to implement the new solution only to be no better off than when they started. By the time the new software is in place, the market has moved on and the situation has changed. In the end, the institution has simply put one more block on a teetering technology tower, ready to collapse at the slightest touch. The institution’s technology portfolio doesn’t properly support their operations or strategy and is so inflexible that it prevents any change of direction.

And then, the cycle starts all over again. The winners in this story are the consultants, the software vendors, and the IT shop. The losers are the institution. Higher Ed struggles on, lugging all this technical debt and leaving students to navigate through contradictory and non-supportive systems.

How Do We Break the Cycle?

The answer is simple: Don’t hire consultants.

That’s right. Don’t hire consultants. Hire strategic partners.

You may be thinking “all consultants sell themselves as strategic partners.” But there is a significant difference between a true strategic partner and a consultant. It is the difference between an architect and a contractor.

A true strategic partner is the architect. Architects put their clients’ needs first and are focused on their goals. They are trained to analyze a client’s site or problem and design a structure that best fits the site or solves the problem. They work closely with their client to develop a fit-for-purpose design, and they develop their design and draw the blueprints with that client’s unique needs and goals in mind. They understand their client’s budget, the long-term cost of ownership of their solution, and the need to demonstrate a return on investment on the project. Only when all these items are understood and in place do they engage a contractor.

The consultant is the contractor. Consultants are best at following a predetermined blueprint to build the structure. You wouldn’t hire a contractor to design your house. Their expertise is carpentry, plumbing, and electric. Like a building contractor, consultants have a deep understanding of configuration, programming upgrades, and testing, not structural design and architecture. We need to stop hiring contractors to do an architect’s job. Institutions must find a strategic partner to develop the solution, and only then should they hire a consulting partner to implement whatever technology solution—if any—is required to achieve that goal.

How Do You Find a Strong Strategic Partner?

Before you start any innovation or transformation journey, you must be crystal clear on what your goals are. It is vital for the success of your institution to define those goals, independent of any technology solution.

For example, define your goal as “I need to improve my student’s experience,” not “I need to replace my SIS system.” If you understand what your overall goals are—independent of a technology product—you stand a much better chance of meeting the strategic goals you have set out to achieve.

Once you have clearly defined your goals, start looking for your strategic partner. When looking at a potential partner, first understand how strongly they are allied with a software.

A good strategic partner won’t have strong ties to a specific solution or set of solutions. They will be free to help you build a pathway that is right for you, not for the vendor.

Next, when you are selecting a partner, observe their approach. Do they try and understand what the strategic goals are for you and your institution? Or do they jump to a technology-based approach?

You need someone who listens and understands what you are trying to achieve, not someone who will come in with pre-determined answers.

They need to be able to work with you to layout an effective approach to meeting your goals, even if that doesn’t require new software.

Finally, clearly understand how they will support you though your journey.

A partner will be with you from the start and is committed to you for the long haul.

If a technical solution is required, a partner understands your goals well enough that they can help guide you to the technology solution and an integration consultant that works best for you.

This “find a partner, not a consultant” approach means not only changing how and when we create our strategies. It changes how we respond to the market and how we relate to technology. We need to create structures where strategies are designed and implemented quickly, with a firm focus on the destination. Having these clear goals and flexible structures makes for a successful partnership, which results in effective initiatives that are truly transformative.

Stop hiring consultants. Start hiring partners.

The 4 Flaws of Traditional Higher Ed ERP/SIS Consulting

Higher Education and the technology that drives it is changing at a lightning-fast pace. Naturally, institutions are turning to consultants to help them implement new technology and navigate the installation safely. Consulting is hugely beneficial to Higher Ed, helping them to expand and transform their capabilities. But not all Higher Ed consultants are the same. To avoid costly setbacks, inadequate tech, and diminished ROI, leaders must be aware of the 4 major flaws in traditional Higher Ed consulting.

1. Certified Consultants – What That Really Means?

Software vendors and system integrators tout the number of certified consultants they can provide. But what does it really mean to be “certified”?

A certification simply verifies that outside providers have passed a test validating their knowledge of the basic architecture of a system, a general understanding of how to configure the software out-of-box. By nature, certification tests are designed to cover the broadest functionality—not the nuances required by a specific industry such as higher education. A certification can only confirm that a consultant knows the very basic functions of the software. It does not guarantee they know how to configure the system to meet the unique needs of your campus. 

This is not to say that certifications are without value, just be sure to keep that value in context. A base-level of knowledge is crucial, but so is the added expertise that certifications do not necessarily provide.

If you have ever found yourself in a conversation with a vendor when they could not provide any assurance that your specific needs could be met with the software they provide, then you understand the difference between someone who has passed a test and someone who is an industry expert.

Additionally, when major software updates occur, some consultants are not required to re-take their certification test. They become “grandfathered in” to the program, even if the software has completely evolved since its conception. This creates incompetence within the consultant space.

It explains why many consultants are competent technologists who understand bits and bytes but do not have the knowledge or expertise to advise schools on contemporary software design and architecture.

 That gap causes several schools to struggle through implementation, resulting in delays, cost overruns, and poorly configured software that does not meet the institution’s needs—effects that can impact the school for years.

So, while software and system integrators may boast the number of certified resources they can provide, Higher Ed must recognize that one week of technical training on a platform does not necessarily mean that person is capable of advising you on the strategic architecture of a campus system that will work seamlessly and specifically for you.

2. The Consultant – Who Do They Really Represent?

Let us not confuse having a consultant assigned to your implementation with having a consultant who is dedicated to your outcomes. Remember, consultants are paid by the software vendor or system integrator and are therefore loyal and beholden to the software they make a living on.

In some cases, consultants stay silent when they recognize gaps in the platform’s capabilities when it comes to meeting your needs. They may know that their new product is not ready or is not customizable enough to meet the needs of your campus. However, to admit that would mean a canceled contract.

Certified consultants are not likely (or even allowed) to recommend a product from another vendor—even when they know that a different software would be better for you. Consultants can only recommend a solution from the assigned vendor or the consulting firm they work for. So emerges a very dangerous conflict of interest.

That is why schools—even with the support of their “certified consultants” have struggled through the design and implementation of their new ERP/ SIS applications.

The truth is, the ERP/SIS was probably never the right fit for that school.

3. The Go-Live Utilization Model

It is important to point out that the traditional consulting model is built on the 40-hour workweek; consultants are hired by a firm as full-time employees for a fixed wage. Those consultants are then dispersed to clients for a fee higher than what they pay the consultant. There is nothing wrong with that until you recognize that a consulting firm’s top priority is to keep their utilization of staff, or outside billing, as close to 100% as possible.

This drives firms to load implementation projects with 40-hour work weeks billed to you, the client, in consecutive weeks leading up to a go-live. In this model, the consulting firm’s main goal becomes to take a school live, not to install the new system in a way that provides the best outcomes post-launch.

The result of this outdated business model makes consulting engagements needlessly expensive and has a devastating impact on ROI for the school.

It is especially damaging for small schools with already strained budgets, schools that often must opt-out of implementing new and increasingly essential technology.

That digital divide driven by income disparity has always existed in Higher Ed, but the pandemic has shed new light on the inequality. Larger institutions can afford to pay consultants for endless rounds of 40-hour workweeks. But the mid-market community colleges and HBCU institutions, the schools that need the most help and are in the crosshairs of the pandemic, are left out to dry.

This digital inequality demands a transformation in Higher Ed consulting.

4. Resource Allocation

One of the most costly inefficiencies Higher Ed has been experiencing for more than two decades is allocating expensive (and often inexperienced) consulting resources to tasks that do not really require consulting, at least not according to the textbook definition.

To understand this claim, let us identify what is expected of a consultant. In their article, Consultancy.uk defines a consultant as this:

“A consultant is a person who provides professional or expert advice in a particular field of science or business to either an organization or individual, and the consultant provides expertise that a client lacks or support that a client is unable to fulfill.”

The latter part of this definition is what we need to focus on.

For the past 20 years, the traditional consulting model took on roles and completed activities on behalf of the client at an extremely high hourly rate. Many of these roles could have been fulfilled by the client themselves, or other human resources, at a significantly lower cost. In other words, consulting firms (who need to keep their people billing 40 hours a week) have guided clients to use them for activities that do not require a consultant.

Here is a short list of low-cost, non-consulting activities that have been billed at high rates by traditional consulting for the last 20 years:

  • Configuration
  • Testing
  • Training
  • Production Support

Just because a school may not have had the bandwidth or internal expertise to do these tasks, does not mean they are activities that fit the expert consulting definition (or price point). At best, they fit the definition of gig work or staff augmentation.

In the long run, it is much more cost-effective to use internal resources who know your school to do these tasks with better efficiency. And an experienced project manager who understands your culture can certainly add value to the process.

In fact, spending money and resources on a more educated internal team is sometimes more valuable than hiring an outside consultant. Many software firms offer certification in their software to clients or prospective clients. Having someone from your organization get certified in the software gives your school the best of both worlds. You end up with someone who knows the architecture of the software as well as how your organization works. It saves money and speeds up the implementation by reducing rework and costly configuration mistakes that so often plague schools for decades.

The short-term investment needed to free up your internal resource to go through certification is well worth it. The same can be said for testing, training, and production support.

You Control Your Consulting

The purpose of this article is not to villainize software vendors and their certified consultants, but it is a warning that their agenda does not necessarily align with yours. So, before you start any technology implementation, clearly define how you are going to use consultants and what their qualifications need to be for the various roles you envision. Having this framework puts you in control of the consulting relationships.  Identify the right resources (both internal and external) so the right things can be done by the right people for the right cost.

 Beyond Academics can assist you in this pre-implementation strategy so that you can move through the buying, design, and go-live process with confidence that you have stewarded the process properly. For now, start with this:

First, make sure any consultant you bring on comes to the table with a deep understanding of how higher education works and is committed to working for you, not the software vendor. Ensure they can provide you strategic, outcomes-based guidance—not just technical setup and wrench-turning.

Next, recognize that, while there are many vendors and system implementors who want to bring true long-term value, others see you as a revenue opportunity. Sometimes, their true motivation is to sell licenses and 40-hour workweeks for their consultants. They may call themselves “partners,” but they take no stake in your long-term success. Their objective is to get you live and move on to the next client. You are the one who gets left behind to deal with the results. You need to learn how to identify and separate the two groups.

Finally, own your implementation. Do not be tempted by the false economy of hiring full-time consultants supported by part-time institutional resources. It may feel cozy to be surrounded by lots of people billing $200+ per hour, but that does not mean guaranteed success.

It is much more cost-effective to provide full-time resources from within the school and pay for the staffing backfill while using implementation consultants to solve specific technical problems under your oversight.

Also, consider looking for software-agnostic consulting firms. They are more likely to find the ideal fit for your school, rather than working to convince you that their vendor’s product can be customized for any school (because it cannot).

Always remember that the decisions you make will impact your institution long after your consultants are gone. You are building the future of your school—do not leave it to inadequate software provided by unaligned consultants.

Mental Health Monday: Increased Anxiety In Students

What to look for, when to seek help, and what schools can do to support their students’ mental health.

Anxiety is a common and sometimes helpful tool that can help students stay motivated, prepared, and alert. For example, when students are preparing to take tests, a certain level of anxiety can be helpful in order to get tasks accomplished. However, when that feeling of anxiety becomes debilitating and stops them from accomplishing their tasks, generalized anxiety could be to blame. It is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased uncertainty, loneliness, stress, and worsening of generalized anxiety for the student population.    

Per the CDC, in 2019 (prior to the pandemic) 9.5%, 3.4%, and 2.7% of adults have experienced mild, moderate, or severe symptoms of anxiety in the past 2 weeks, respectively. Most adults who experienced mild, moderate, or severe symptoms were between the ages of 18-29.  Women were more likely to experience mild, moderate, or severe symptoms of anxiety than men.   

The Problem: 

Once anxiety becomes overwhelming and unmanageable it is referred to as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD can be described as a feeling of excessive worry that is associated with restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, or difficulty concentrating.  

Student Barriers: 

We already know that students are facing worsening anxiety due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, students often delay seeking care, citing lack of access to care, the stigma associated with mental health conditions, and the lack of understanding of the condition. Students often self-medicate with increased alcohol consumption, drug use, or self-isolation which can only worsen GAD. 

For Students: 

Seek help when you need it. Some signs that you may benefit from support are when: 

  • You are experiencing feelings of hopelessness.
  • Your anxiety is causing you to feel physically ill. 
  • Your anxiety is impacting your grades.
  • You are sleeping more than usual and feel a lack of energy to get your day started.
  • You have a decreased appetite.

For Schools: 

  • Train your staff to recognize when students may be displaying signs of worsening anxiety.
  • Improve access to care for students.
  • Increase focus on student wellbeing.

5 Reasons Campuses Are Unwilling to Change

The world around us is moving at an incredible pace, and industries are modernizing right in front of our eyes. This shift is due to the urgency to stay relevant and, more importantly, sustainable in a competitive, post-pandemic marketplace. 

Within these modern industries are agents of change who hold various roles from the highest level of leadership to the operational level of the workforce. They have innovated to stay relevant and competitive. Their goal is to ensure they create products and services to meet the expected, fast-paced demands of their consumer. And their nimbleness has allowed them to succeed.

So why has Higher Ed struggled to modernize?

1. Comfortability

Humans are creatures of habit, and we are comfortable with what we know and do. The same goes for Higher Ed, which has relied on the same methodology and technology for decades. Even though these things slow institutions down and inhibit their innovation, Higher Ed is comfortable and unwilling to change.

The good news about the global pandemic is that it has finally forced Higher Ed to evolve the outdated practices that should have been changed years ago.

2. Title Ownership

People are entitled by their titles. Their assigned roles are heavy with accountability. This responsibility creates fear of failure but also over-empowers the role. The focus is on personal advancement, not on the advancement of the institution.

3. Boxed-In

Many leaders are insulated by their campus, laser-focused on internal operations. With their head down, it is difficult to imagine that their problems are the same problems that other institutions are facing. They believe that their problems are unique, so they cannot innovate in the same way as other schools.

Campuses are unique, but not as unique as their leaders may think. Enrollment sustainability, campus affinity, transfer rates, and technology are all top-of-mind within Higher Ed. All campuses need to evolve, and that evolution will be easier and more valuable if campuses look to each other for how to innovate.

On a large scale, campuses need to transform together. Then, once they’ve accomplished that, they can tailor their approach to fit their smaller, more unique needs. It’s time for Higher Ed to lift their head up and look to one another for ways to change. 

4. Tenure Workforce

Faculty and staff (more often than we would like to admit) view tenure as a security blanket, and, once they are under it, they cease to improve upon their role. This goes back to the comfortability of Higher Ed. But comfort inhibits innovation.

Higher Ed is a competitive landscape, and faculty and staff must constantly strive to make improvements. If the tenure doesn’t go away, it at least has to change. It is among the many elements of Higher Ed that do.

5. Retirement Horizon

Similar to the tenured workforce, leaders, faculty, and staff who are within retirement age are not motivated to make improvements. Their sights are set on their personal advancement into retirement, not the advancement of the institution.

A common theme arises among tenure, retirement, and title ownership: the individual is placed above the organization.

What needs to change? Whether it’s a change in operations or a change in culture, Higher Ed needs to align their institutions’ value with the value to its faculty, staff, and students. There is no motivation for innovation within an organization that cannot inspire loyalty. To create loyalty, value must be placed on the campus experience, the services the university offers, and a shared mission.

So how do campuses address each of these struggles?

Try starting here: Consider every campus role with term limits. Put people on the clock and give them a set time frame to make an impact. This will create motivation that leads to innovation. 

It will allow individual mobility to high-impact roles alongside the growing and evolving institution. It will also allow for others to get exposure to new jobs and experiences, creating a workforce with a diverse set of skills. All the while, campuses will benefit from innovative, driven faculty and staff who are striving to make a positive impact.

Innovative campuses are campuses that are constantly in motion, especially when it comes to the ever-changing technology that enables their innovation. Faculty and staff need to be nimble and comfortable in a fluid campus. And they have to start now.

As the new, post-pandemic era begins, will your institution be innovative? Or will it plant its feet in its old practices and get left behind?

Student Mental Health and COVID-19

Due to the long-lasting pandemic that has led to stay-at-home orders, lockdowns, and social distancing, COVID-19 has had a disastrous impact on the mental health of college students. During this time, students have been feeling isolated which has led to an increase in their stress, anxiety, and depression. Many schools have shifted to online learning, and, for some students, this less interactive form of learning has increased that feeling of isolation and its adverse effects.

During increased levels of stress, students may have thoughts of hurting themselves and thoughts of suicide. Due to the lack of access to care, students may put off seeking help when amid a mental health crisis. That is why it is important for school officials, family members, and peers to look for warning signs to make sure that those who need support receive it. Some common warning signs to be aware of are:

  • Isolation from friends
  • Expression of feelings of tiredness or sleepiness more often than normal
  • Drug and/or alcohol use that is more than normal
  • Increased mood swings

It’s also important that students recognize the warning signs in themselves. Students should be aware of these common signs of chronic stress, anxiety, and depression:

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal means
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Making plans for suicide

If you or someone you know is struggling to cope and need immediate assistance you should call 911, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1800273TALK), or call/text the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990).

Questions for Higher Ed Leaders:

  • Are schools ready to take care of their student population knowing the increased mental health crisis facing them?
  • How will schools lead the next generation of students to better health and a better life?

The college campus will never be the same again, and old solutions will not solve new problems. Higher education has a responsibility to its students to provide them the mental health resources that they need.

BA’s Top 10 Predictions for Higher Ed in 2021

Higher education faced some unprecedented challenges in 2020 and we were forced to adapt. But though 2020 is over, Higher Ed still has a lot of work to do. We must continue to adapt and transform—as we should be doing every year—to create a better future for students of today and beyond.

Here are our Higher Ed predictions for 2021, including the challenges still to overcome:

Online and hybrid education will be here to stay post-pandemic.

Schools will continue to use online and hybrid education to expand their geographic market and reduce costs. The quality of remote learning will continue to increase as faculty build up their skills and schools enhance their technical capabilities. The prevalence of online courses will make it easier for students to transfer between institutions. More students will continue to live off campus which will greatly reduce housing and fee revenue.

COVID mitigation protocols will continue to impact campuses through 2022.

Schools plan for the possibility that the pandemic won’t significantly ease and many COVID protocols become permanent. The appearance of more contagious variants and the slow roll-out of the vaccine will mean academic years 2021 and possibly 2022 will look a lot like Fall and Winter of 2020. The Federal DOE will issue comprehensive COVID guidelines and institutions will have to change their current protocols to meet the new nationwide standard.

Students will expand their choice of institutions beyond traditional boundaries and transfer credit will increase at 4-year institutions.

Student transfers will continue to increase. Remote education will make it easier for students to assemble their diplomas by taking relevant classes from a series of institutions. At the same time, responding to the drop in number of college age students, schools will increase recruiting Sophomores from other schools to become Junior transfers.

Many institutions will reduce their workforces (faculty/staff) and many programs will be sunset due to budget constraints.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty positions will continue to dwindle. Schools will soon have faculties made up entirely of adjuncts and short-term contractors. State systems will consolidate their smaller, financially weaker schools. All schools will start evaluating their programs and close low enrollment programs that are losing money.

ERP / SIS transformation projects will be scrutinized.

The technology budgets of state and private schools will be slashed over the next two years. As a result, schools won’t be able to afford 9 figure ERP/SIS transformation projects anymore. Instead, they will focus their resources on smaller technology initiatives with clear strategic goals targeted on specific processes. There will also be an increase in high-impact transformation initiatives that are not technology based.

Consulting firms dependent on ERP and SIS will downsize.

Without a steady pipeline of large ERP or SIS initiatives, consulting firms that specialize in technology implementations will have to downsize. However, firms that specialize in developing strategy, business process transformation, and the student experience will thrive.

Parents will be more critical of the ROI of sending their child to college.

Parents (and students) will question why they are paying pre-pandemic tuition and fee rates for their children to take online classes. As the pressure to reduce tuition and eliminate fees increase, schools will have to find ways to redefine the value students receive from their tuition investment.

Schools will struggle to maintain their campus affinity with remote learning.

Online learning makes transferring from one school to another significantly easier. Students will see an individual school they’ve attended as simply one stop of many on their way to a degree. This weaker affinity will make it harder for a school to develop its students into institutionally loyal, lifelong learners, supportive alumni, and long-term donors.

Enrollment of socioeconomically disadvantaged students will continue to drop, especially in community colleges.

Enrollment for both 4-year and community colleges dropped in 2020. Economic uncertainty, housing and food insecurity, lack of internet access, and having to teach their children at home are leading many people to put off enrollment. As long as these roadblocks remain, the downward trend in enrollment will continue.

Private schools will have to increase discounts.

In the Fall of 2019, the average tuition discount rate for private colleges was 53%. Institutional aid paid, on average, 60% of the published tuition price, leaving colleges in a tight financial bind. In an effort to keep their enrollments stable, colleges will continue to increase discount rates and institutional aid—further weakening their financial position and causing some schools to close.

Do you agree with these predictions? What other predictions for 2021 do you have?

Technology Enables. Ideas Transform.

Technology won’t solve our problems. Technology is a tool, like a hammer or a saw. A power saw will only make you more efficient at building something—it won’t make you a better designer or a better carpenter.

But that is not what most consulting companies will tell you. Article after article, pitch after pitch, consulting firms will tell you that this or that technology is going to “transform your school” and make your institution “better faster and more competitive.” But, until you know your goals and the outcomes you are striving for, you won’t be able to select the technology you actually need. It would be like going to your tool chest and grabbing a saw before knowing if you need to cut a board or change a faucet.

The view that technology alone is transformational is deeply rooted in the 1990s and 2000s. In those eras, technology had a significant impact on higher education—automating paper processes while making transactions faster and easier to track. Massive amounts of paper disappeared as processes moved online. But, in the end, the technology didn’t transform higher education; it only transformed how day-to-day administrative processes were executed.

Yet, consultants continue to promise technology will “transform your business.” And the technology that firms tell you will transform your business happens to be what is sold by the vendors they are aligned with. Most consultants are experts on how a software package operates within a school, not on how a school operates and delivers value.

Technology enables. Ideas transform.

The world is changing fast. You need to step back and ask: What do I do, now? What do I do to develop and deliver on my institution’s vision and mission? What do I do to deliver value to students for their tuition dollars? What do I do to ensure my students are able to use our institution to become lifelong learners? How do I best prepare my students for a rapidly changing job market that has opportunities for graduating seniors that did not exist four years ago when they were first-year students?

None of these “Now what?” questions are answered simply by implementing an updated software.

To serve our industry, consultants must move away from the techno-centric answer to every question. They must learn to answer the “Now what?” questions schools are asking as they face this tidal wave of change. We need to change our focus from what is simply enabling to what is truly transformational.

Only after these questions are answered can the “How do we do it?” question be answered. The answer to that question doesn’t have to be new software. It can be a change in the business process. Or it can be a change in who the school targets to recruit, what programs it offers, or how it supports its community.

So, now what?

First, institutions need to focus on developing strategies and actions to meet the challenges they face and worry about technology later. To succeed, schools must seek out those consultants and firms that truly understand the business of higher education and how it operates, rather than those firms whose primary expertise is a specific software or technical solution.

To succeed, schools must seek out those consultants and firms that truly understand the business of higher education and how it operates, rather than those firms whose primary expertise is a specific software or technical solution.

Consultants need to start the hard work of understanding how higher education operates and what its challenges actually are. They must change their focus from technology-only solutions to business outcomes. They should only propose a technical solution that supports specific outcomes, and only after those outcomes are well understood.

Consulting firms need to drive their business knowledge lower in the staffing pyramid. The practice of sending in a team of new, industry-inexperienced consultants to do the day-to-day work of the project, with the real experts making infrequent visits should end. Experts should be readily available to guide your institution in creating a strategy as well as sharing their knowledge with the rest of their team.

Clients need to choose only those consulting firms that are willing to build long partnerships with them that go beyond technical implementation. Time and money are too tight to pick a consultant who simply installs your software and walks away.

Institutions need to find partners who will help them answer the “Now what?” questions today, tomorrow, and long into the future. They need partners who understand what they are trying to do, ones that won’t simply hand them a power saw to fix a faucet.