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The good news about the global pandemic is that it has finally forced Higher Ed to evolve the outdated practices that should have been changed years ago.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

Okay Higher Ed, Now What?


Colleges and universities have opened for on-campus instruction and despite the protocols, guidelines, honor codes, and plexiglass, college-related COVID cases have exploded. On September 3, the NY Times published a map showing there were 51,000 COVID cases across 1,020 institutions—and this number is increasing.

It is clear what happens when schools try and operate along the “normal” business model.

Now what?

The first step is understanding there will be no return to the way things were.

Terri E. Givens, CEO of the Center of Higher Education Leadership and a former Provost, said:

“If there is any leader in the country who thinks it is going to go back to where it was a year ago, they are lying to themselves. But what this will look like is going to be hugely dependent on resources. Right now, everything is in emergency mode.”

You may be in emergency mode but to survive you will have to focus on a future, a future that will include COVID.

As Matt Alex of Beyond Academics says:

“Where the status quo ends, opportunities begin.”

What are those opportunities?

Understand who you are as an institution. How would you define your institution if you didn’t include the on-campus experience? How do you quickly and clearly define the value you provide to your students? What would your recruiting collateral look like if you didn’t include pictures of the leafy quad, the attractive college town, and the comfortable dorms? How would you define what makes you different from all the other schools that are moving their courses online at the same time you are?

Joel Mathew, co-founder of Beyond Academics and Leader of Digital Enrollment Strategy, says the spike he has seen in college advertising is significant. But most of the ads he’s surveyed are focused on a degree a potential student can earn, not on the value to the student. He said:

“Many Higher Ed ads you see are all generally the same. They are more than likely a list of benefits or attributes that scream ‘look at us’ when they should be more student-centric and focus on the ‘why’ of the end consumer.”

Everyone is offering online degrees. If you can define the value you deliver to your students, you will set yourself apart from the noise of the pack.

Focus on the student.

Now is a good time to look at your processes and technology and ask “Who are these processes serving: the administrator or the student?” For the last 20 plus years, as schools become more technology-enabled, processes have been designed either with software in mind or making administrative processes easier. Now, is the time to redesign those processes to be student-centric.

Increase learning effectiveness. 

COVID presents a chance to remake how we deliver education. In the rush this spring to move classes online, lectures were recorded, and power points were converted to PDF and put online. But now schools must plan for remote teaching for the long haul and the course catalog must be redesigned to be effective in a remote/high-flex format. This presents an opportunity to move to more effective teaching approaches like a flipped classroom. With better course delivery, better learning experience, and better learning outcomes, students will see the value your school delivers for their tuition dollars.

No matter what—understand your cost and revenue models. 

Many institutions can’t define the costs and margins of their basic product—the course offering. What other industry can say that? State budgets are being drastically cut. State allocations to education were just getting close to pre-2008 levels. But the cuts that are coming will erase all that. Private schools are meeting with resistance to their tuition rates. 

As revenue shrinks, it is time to deeply understand and manage your costs. What are the elements of your cost of instruction? Is your school running multiple versions of the same software? Are there new revenue sources? Can you use your online learning capabilities to expand your geographic reach? Once you understand the value that you deliver that is separate from the on-campus experience are their prospects that you can target that you’ve missed in the past?

COVID has changed how higher education must operate, and it will never go back to the way it was at the start of 2020. We’ve already seen what happens when schools try the old ways in this new world. Things break. Things fall apart. To survive, institutions will have to operate in a new way in the new world.

Think Entrepreneurially Or Risk Extinction (Or Irrelevance)


I was recently asked why (of all places) I chose to get involved in a higher education think tank and consulting firm.

After all, I didn’t spend most of my life working on a college campus building deep industry knowledge and subject matter expertise. The five years I did spend on campus as a student in the early ’90s were certainly nothing to write home about.

So why higher education? And why now?

Here’s what I found myself answering in response to the question.

First, I believe in the vision of our founder, Matt Alex, has. He has spent over 25 years in the Higher Ed space, and he has seen it from every angle—as an insider, a gifted consultant, and a soon-to-be customer. When Matt says the system is broken and unsustainable, I believe him. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe the train wreck trajectory traditional higher education is on. 

Second, I like fixing broken things. It’s what my career as a serial entrepreneur has been all about. I spent the better part of a decade researching entrepreneurial behavior, and it’s how the entrepreneurial mind works. You see a problem and you look to solve it.

Some problems are easy to solve. Others, not so much. A small handful are so big and so messy, it’s not worth pursuing for the faint of heart. (#USpolitics) Higher education comes pretty darn close to the latter. But someone has to do it. Someone has to fix Higher Ed.

As I’ve invested the time to really look at Higher Ed through a business lens (hint, hint), I’ve realized that even though the problem appears gargantuan, the solution is really quite simple.

Here’s the problem:

  1. Pricing: The financial model is breaking because the product is overpriced, and customers are finally pushing back. This is what is freaking higher education out. They never expected to be challenged on the value they deliver. Every new year was supposed to be a license to raise prices. After all, that’s what it has been like for 100 years.
  2. People: The most valuable asset in higher education, the professor, is grossly underpaid for what the university generates in revenue off that professor. Yet, the professor is drunk on “tenure kool-aid.” It’s only a matter of time when (really) smart professors realize they can earn more for their intellectual property in a global educational marketplace than in a salaried job on a boat that is starting to take on a shocking amount of water.
  3. Positioning: It was surprising to me to discover how little financial oversight there is in higher education. We’ve all heard about the cat being away and what the mice do in its absence. When things run loose for as long as they have in higher education, mega-disruption always follows, and there are lots of casualties. Here’s what’s just around the corner: if the student (buyer) will soon be able to access the professor’s content (product) differently (direct digital access), how does the middleman (the institution) justify its massive markup? (Think Amazon, Casper, and every other manufacturer-to-consumer play.)
  4. (Value) Proposition: If higher education tells me that I have to pay $40,000-$70,000 per year for my kid to get a good job 4-8 years later, and now brands like Google say that same kid (subject to being the kind of human being they would want in their company) could take an 8-week certification course and have a job with them, there’s a problem brewing. Google is just the tip of the iceberg on this.
  5. Pivot-Inability: Most industries see writing on the wall when it appears and start to adapt and change. My friend and partner Matt Alex tells me that higher education plans to do some kicking, screaming, and even some Ostrich-like behavior with their head in the sand.

So, what’s the solution?

It’s back to simplicity, where great solutions always lie.

  1. Humility: Higher Ed has had a great run for 100+ years. But anything that old is just that: old! Old isn’t bad. It’s actually good. But old and rigid is a problem. So, the easy solution is to recognize what you’re not as gifted at—business mindset, entrepreneurial thinking, product innovation, messaging, customer acquisition, and change management—and ask for help.
  2. Transparency: The reality is, there is going to be collateral damage. Disruption of the magnitude heading toward Higher Ed is going to kill a lot of budgets and take a lot of jobs. Be open about what you are talking about in C-suite conversations, so that your D-suite, managers, and staff, aren’t blindsided later.
  3. Innovation: I’m told that higher education does not like this word because of what it insinuates regarding change. (It is ironic to point out that Higher Ed teaches about innovation but doesn’t want to be innovative.) I would like to make the case that Higher Ed go all in to embrace this word, discover what it really means, understand how to activate the behaviors on campus that drive it, and put a framework in place to foster it. There are plenty of smart, passionate, and committed people who work on campus who have ideas that need to be heard, tested, and pushed to market. What is missing is the framework.
  4. Embrace Failure: It’s another taboo word, I know. However, without allowing this to happen in small ways in the short term, we guarantee it will happen (at an existential level) within 5 years for a lot of schools. Embracing failure and what it can teach us is a key trait of organizations that thrive through change. This means a professor should feel free to experiment with new ways to deliver a class knowing that even if it is a total disaster in the Fall semester, some changes and improvements (with student feedback) could result in a game-changing solution for the Winter. The same is true for the registrar’s office, the dean’s office, and student services.
  5. Re-Imagine: You’ve heard the saying “if you don’t know where you’re going, all roads will lead you there.” The handling of return to campus in the Fall of 2020 is a testament to that. There was no vision beyond “We have to get tuition and dorm dollars in the door.” So plans got put in place to make that happen—only to see them backfire. What if institutions took the time to imagine what it will look like to be a Successful Post-Pandemic Institution and work backward from there? That’s what entrepreneurs do. You begin with the end in mind. That’s what I’d challenge Higher Ed to do sooner rather than later.

The next piece I’ll write will describe what I (an obvious outsider) believes a Successful Post-Pandemic Institution needs to embrace in thought and action. It may ruffle a few feathers, as I am sure this piece will do. But for the few who are open to some fresh ideas, I want to present a roadmap to re-imagine a bright future.

In closing, there’s actually a third reason I am partnering with Matt Alex to help higher education—even though I could be doing a lot of other things that are less taxing and more financially rewarding.

I believe in the people of Higher Ed.

I have had a chance to meet and spend time with many of them on webinars, TownHalls, Zoom meetings, and conference calls. I believe that a majority of people who work in higher education care deeply about what they do. They want things to get better.

Truth be told, they don’t know exactly what to do next to protect their jobs, their institution, and their constituents, but the good ones are (finally) looking for answers.

Others, unfortunately, will think and act like the board of directors of Blockbuster Video (and many other examples I can cite of people who were convinced they were invincible) when the Netflix’s of their world showed up on the scene. That movie (pardon the pun) does not end well.


  • It’s been a good 100+ year run, but it’s high time for fresh, new thinking in how Higher Ed serves its customer.
  • Those who want to keep repaving old roads like my partner, Matt Alex, talks about, will pay a dear price for it. Sure, the university/college may still exist as a name and location, but a lot of good people won’t have jobs there anymore.
  • Innovation, when done right, can be fun, empowering, and, most importantly, more beneficial for all involved. If we’re really in this for the kids, we need to act like it.
  • You’re not alone, Higher Ed. Other segments of the economy have been through existential change and come out just fine. There’s plenty of help and case studies available, but you have to look outside the higher education bubble.
  • Don’t be like an ostrich at a time like this.

Life is full of choices, keep it entrepreneurial!

Joe Abraham
Author of Entrepreneurial DNA
Operating Partner, Beyond Academics

Higher Ed: What Are You Paying For?


As we navigate through the pandemic, and as more schools make the shift to online learning, the questions about the cost of Higher Ed are rising to the top.

Schools are faced with…

  • financial repercussions with campus closures.
  • shifts to a new learning model.
  • requirements of online services.
  • reductions of auxiliary revenue streams,
  • the potential of enrollment drops.

Families are requesting money back or a lower tuition because the campus aspect is being taken away. Everything that they invested in was centered around the student’s experience. ‘All’ that digital learning is giving to them now is knowledge. 

My quick disclaimer: I am not saying that the cost of higher ed is justified, but it is not as simple as “I need my tuition back because the model of education has shifted online.” 

Three Real Issues to Address:

  1. What does tuition go toward?
  2. What are parents and students really paying for? 
  3. Is the cost justified?

While they are separate questions, the points in this article will shed light on all three.

Parents Are Willing to Pay

“But the ultimate driver of cost is the sheer number of people vying for a college education.” – Richard Vedder, distinguished professor of economics emeritus at Ohio University [1] 

Is higher ed expensive? Yes. 

However, we live in a supply and demand world where you have the freedom to attend or not. No one is requiring you to pay the tuition for a product that you do not feel is worth it. You have a choice to attend more cost-effective institutions.

An article by Higher Ed Insider indicates:

The prospective students and families that colleges and universities recruit typically have no idea the actual cost of an education until long after they’ve chosen where to apply. That often leads them to rule out institutions with costs they could have afforded, but prices they could not.” [2]

The reality is that you are paying for the brand, experience, and social economics stature to get through the gate check for the career world. Here is what folks need to understand before you ask for a tuition refund.


Running a campus is not cheap. Campuses are mini cities with infrastructure and resources to provide its services. 

In a story in the Atlantic, Amanda Ripley articulates:

“It turns out that the vast majority of American college spending goes to routine educational operations — like paying staff and faculty”. [3]

With that context, part of tuition is like a community’s tax bill to cover the cost of the city. The cost will not necessarily disappear when it is closed. They will not refund taxes for closed community centers or parks due to the pandemic. 

Like citizens, students are paying for the college, not the specific services. If they feel that a city is not providing value for their tax money, many move. Students can do the same if they do not find the school’s worth and value.

Campus Support Activities

Campuses still have to support a variety of academic activities—pre-admission, academic lifestyle, student/learning management/engagement systems, resources—that require an organizational structure in place to manage it. Although they have been inefficient for years, they are still in place and used in an online experience. 

Do not forget about the robust support staff that manages the students’ journey through various offices—admissions, registrations, bursars, advising, financial aid, and other college departments. 

According to Business Insider:

“College is expensive for many reasons, including a surge in demand, an increase in financial aid, a lack of state funding, a need for more faculty members and money to pay them, and ballooning student services.” [2]

Not only do you have to recognize that the infrastructure to maintain a campus is complex and expensive, but it also requires dedicated leadership and staff to manage and maintain every aspect beyond the knowledge layer that students experience.  

Overvaluing the What

The education content that you actually experience in a classroom is not drastically different from one campus to another. The reality is that quality faculty are at many campuses no matter the tier or ranking. The knowledge within standard courses can be disseminated in a related loop annually.  

The WHAT factors such as classes, courses, faculty, climbing walls, football team and modern dorms are at many schools. Parents and students have choices to pay for the WHAT or the WHY. If you are unhappy with a high tuition, you can change colleges as I mentioned earlier. However, you also need to find unique reasons WHY you are choosing that college.

Academic Credentialing and Potential Opportunities

The cost of your tuition is dictated by the credentials gained from that institution. You are paying for the label that is placed on a pedestal for a transcript, resume, and social media platform, along with the use of their name to open up doors for your future. Exponential career paths are opened after you graduate from one of the big brand schools. Many take advantage of applying to an expensive college in hopes that they can compete and gain the opportunities that it presents. That degree’s value is not necessarily lessened because of how the instruction is consumed. 

So what are you paying for?  Are you paying for the seal? Paying for the bragging rights? 

Each are drivers that dictate the price. As value gets aligned and parents rethink how they spend, campuses will also redesign what they invest in. Until then, you have a choice to enroll or not, as there are many alternatives to gain knowledge. Once you can determine what you want to pay for, the decision is easy. 


  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/why-is-college-so-expensive-2018-4
  2. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/call-action-marketing-and-communications-higher-education/it-isn’t-cost-college-’s-problem-it
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/09/why-is-college-so-expensive-in-america/569884/

The End of Sneakernet


Many schools designed their technology systems based on how their processes were executed in a paper world. When they first went to mainframe, institutions simply moved their paper processes to the computer with the idea of “I’ll fix them later” and they forgot about them. As a result, over the years key processes were simply lifted and shifted from one system to the next—from mainframe to client-server, to online to the cloud. If the new computer system could support them, many “as is” processes were left, “as is.” If the student was on campus and could walk from the Registrar’s office to the Financial Aid office, to the Bursars, to make payments and submit paperwork, there was no real need to update this “sneakernet.” 

But no longer.

Since March, higher education has been laser-focused on getting classes online and developing protocols for safe, in-person instruction. But now colleges and universities are rapidly toggling back to remote learning and face a whole semester and possibly a whole academic year of remote instruction and remote administrative processes. Now colleges and universities simply can’t afford to leave these burdensome administrative roadblocks in place.

Even before the pandemic, in order to survive, institutions needed to raise student retention and graduation rates, while reducing enrollment melt. With schools moving to remote learning and students questioning the value of on-line instruction compared to the cost of tuition, increasing student satisfaction and retention is even more important.   

To successfully support their students, institutions need to review their administrative processes with the same care they configured safe classrooms, installed plexiglass shields, and set up soap stations.

The first step is to generate an inventory of key student-facing processes. Each process in the inventory should be reviewed through the lens of understanding its desired outcome.  Once the outcome is understood, institutions need to ask two questions.  First, “Does this process have a face to face component, and does that component have to be done on campus?” 

 If the answer is yes, institutions must ask “Is this face to face interaction even needed?” If the answer is no, the process should be redesigned to eliminate the face to face interaction with a focus on the student’s journey to the desired outcome—not what is easier for the administrator or out of date rules. If an in-person interaction is required, the process should still be reviewed through the lens of how a student experiences it to make it as efficient and student-centric as possible.   

Overall revising these processes can increase efficiency, lower resource needs, and increase student satisfaction. All of these are key to surviving and staying strong in these rapidly changing times. 

And students will be happy to see the end of the “sneakernet.”

About John Thompson-Haas

John Thompson Haas has been dedicated to the Higher Ed Space for the past 30 years. Playing various roles from Faculty, System Implementer, Strategist, and now leading consulting at Beyond Academics, he brings a perspective to our client discussion as they look to shift in the new normal and create exponential transformation.

John Thompson-Haas can be reached on LinkedIn or via email: jth@beyondacademics.com

Who Is the Man in the Lobby? (Part 2)


Has this happened to you?

In case you missed part 1, click here.

Listen to this post:

Funny how my post got people uncomfortable and I didn’t even name names. It’s something we all have been seeing. Some of you were the man walking in the lobby. Others were the man selling “AMAZING.” Some were the onlookers hoping to see where you could benefit from the transaction. 

If you felt like I was poking at you. I kind of was. Because we all are a little guilty of leading higher ed to the mess we are in.  We all have been selling and buying the wrong transformation.  

  • We were afraid, if we didn’t do what others were doing, we would be left behind.
  • We were selling because it helped quarterly numbers when we knew the products were not ready.
  • We knew, in the long run, the investment would only have a slight linear transformation but it was a cash cow for many.
  • The transformation message was driven by self-centered aspirations.

If we all say we believe in higher ed, then safeguard it. Help higher ed with the right transformation. One that’s centered around true value and student outcomes.

It’s telling, I got texts, LinkedIn messages, and phone calls all saying I know the answer of my post but all saying off the record. Everyone was afraid of the repercussions from vendors, schools, consulting firms and peers. They all recognize the spin and what is happening. Now that we are living through COVID casualties, we have to rethink how we operate in Higher Ed.

The past few months, reality has set in. 

Let’s just look at the Educause Top IT Issues for 2020. How many of those on the list truly prepared campuses to address the issues that schools faced in March and today?

Top IT Issues List for 2020 

  1. Information Security Strategy
  2. Privacy
  3. Sustainable Funding
  4. Digital Integrations
  5. Student-Centric Higher Education
  6. Student Retention and Completion
  7. Improved Enrollment
  8. Higher Education Affordability
  9. Administrative Simplification
  10. The Integrative CIO

Which one of those actually allowed schools to be nimble and sustainable? How many of these campuses can trigger any of these in weeks and not 6+ months.

Most top 10 lists are institution centric and are designed to be adopted in 12 -18 plus months. That won’t work today. 

The focus has been on initiatives that provided buzz words for conferences and great papers that showcased delusional value. In reality, it will not enable your campus to be sustainable.

School leaders have to stop taking the easy road and designing your strategy based on conference discussions and fun vendor alcohol filled dinners. Be accountable to your institution.

Many leaders don’t want to do the hard work to design a strategy.  When you’re facing enrollment issues, it’s easy to say let’s adopt a technology solution or suggest the cloud. Or plan a costly irrelevant system migration when you have no choice, when you realize you should have modernized your systems before the last legacy coder on earth is a year from retirement.

Schools are going to go out of business because of four reasons:

  1. They are not “fit for purpose”
  2. They don’t have a “digital strategy”
  3. They don’t have an “online strategy” 
  4. They never defined their “brand value”

These are obvious if you look at what will keep you sustainable. It’s time to determine what’s important for your campus and design a strategy based on it. 

Finally, the onlookers were the higher ed analysts who sat on their hands. None of them actually guided you to focus on what mattered. Either they didn’t know, which is scary, or:

  • Because it didn’t have 6 or 7 digit revenue stream
  • Or because their annual industry trends reports were sponsored by the man in the lobby

In the past 8 years, we’ve all seen the lobby of conference hotels with these timeshare discussions to transform higher ed. 

Challenge me. Say “Matt—you’re crazy.” I’m open to having these transparent discussions. All we have to do is look at the past engagements, look at the top 10 lists, look at analyst reports. Look at the cloud transition labs that shamelessly wasted people’s time. 

Come on, higher ed. Wake up. Stop being a part of the lobby transformations.

Who Is the Man in the Lobby? (Part 1)


Who is this?

You’re walking through the lobby of the hotel. You see a friendly face approaching with a bright smile and a firm handshake. He asks if you’d like to own “AMAZING.” He paints a picture of this amazing transformational experience.

You ask curious questions, but he deflects and continues to speak about the others who also believe in this amazing transformation. He even stops a random person who supposedly embarked on the same journey and is now part of this amazing, elite community. Reluctantly, you shake off the concerns in the back of your head. You drink the kool-aid. You sign on the dotted line. They have you now.

You eventually recognize you won’t be able to experience this amazing transformation for another 18-24 months. You are then told by others that there are underlying costs that you are responsible for. You are now in a binding, long-term contract. Breaking the agreement would cost you substantially. But the most disappointing aspect is this: the picture he painted won’t become reality.

A year later, when you are walking through the lobby, you see that same person. He waves you in and tells the other person how you are future-thinking and a fellow investor. To save face, you smile, shake your head in agreement, and walk away. You recognize that another person, one just like you, just got taken by the ????????????????.

Click here for part two. >>>