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.

Summary

  • 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.

Infrastructure 

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. 

Sources 

  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. >>>

New Player in the SIS Space, can they shift the SPIN in a new direction?

As some of you may have seen the article about Columbia University and Unifyed bringing a new SIS to the market. Competition always creates better quality for the market so while I try to understand the potential impact of this, it is still always good for the consumer. This happens to be my wheelhouse for the last 30 years and I’ve seen the past 8 years of linear trajectory and little transformation in the student market.  I know Gaspare, I put him in the rarefied air of one of the smartest CIO’s in higher ed.  Put it this way, I’ve known him since his coding days and saw what he’s capable of. For this reason, he was not easily sold the cloud spin many have been. So, this move is really interesting to see. While I believe he’s incredibly smart, I do have my own perspective on if this could transform a student market beyond the traditional approach of digitizing back-office processes.   

This a great time to reflect on the following questions:

  • Does Higher Ed need another SIS Provider who will only digitize your 1990 processes?
  • Will they change the spin and move schools from the cross hairs of the pandemic?
  • Will they bring true ROI for the investment schools will have to put in?

Like a plow in a fleet of equipment to manage snowstorms for a city, ERP /SIS are just equipment for many Chancellors, Presidents and Provosts and really never considered it to be a brand differentiator.

News flash… students don’t care which plow is used or which SIS you use.  

They only care when it’s not functioning during peak times. For this reason, I believe no SIS will solely transform colleges or universities, it will only enable them to do their respective tasks during peak periods.

In a post pandemic era, below are the 4 factors that will keep schools sustainable.

  1. Academics that is designed ‘fit for purpose’ 
  2. Increase online presence
  3. Create a digital culture and learning that will rival online gaming
  4. Create an educational marketplace that will unbundle, personalize academic paths and foster greater access for all.

If you go through my list, none of those are driven by an SIS. The SIS just manages the back-office processes of them. Prior to 2020, all SIS were designed around core antiqued institution centric processes of the 1990s. Yes, 1990 when next-generation technologies were not available. Yet, folks are asking their modern solutions providers to replicate legacy.

When the so-called modern student solution providers decided to embark on designing a SIS they boasted about:

  • Better user interface
  • On single line of code for better reporting capabilities
  • Oh yeah, cloud

While the mantra was a modern student, none of them actually transformed universities or colleges. None of the schools that adopted these modern platforms withstood the impacts of the pandemic in March.  However, colleges who did adopt an online strategy invested in digital learning and made their offering accessible beyond the four walls of a campus fair far better.  This is what post-pandemic student systems should be addressing.  So, if Columbia and Unifyed can help foster these innovative approaches in an affordable way, they can change the market.  If not, they are just managing the back-office processes of old.

Three Mistakes

For a new player to make an impact, let’s recognize the mistakes of the past decade.

The first mistake the cloud vendors made was they made moving to the cloud as the transformation, which we all know is really not game-changing, it is just outsourcing infrastructure to reduce operational costs.

The second key mistake is they asked institutions who are not “future thinkers” to help them design a product for the future, many of these institutions where still managing processes manually so they were riding bikes when many others were in a Honda. You are now asking them to design an airplane. So, what you got was a modern Toyota driving on the same expressways as the Hondas.

The reality is none of them had a future of lens on. We just need to look at the recent engagements, the ones that went live and the ones that were paused. It’s evident that these schools were/are requesting what their legacy systems did. Check out the Client Gap (Blocker) list that the vendors were asked to design around. Many of the requests on the list do not differentiate campuses. Sadly, many of these list stalled projects and only increased the cost of the migration.

The final mistake is that the SIS vendors, underestimated the complexity of designing a Student System from scratch so the roadmaps painted an unrealistic picture of the transformation. Which also costed many early adopters dearly.

A modern system has to change what you do and not repave the same path. So, what I’ll be looking for from these campuses, who adopt this new sis, how will they enable the new normal. If it’s just to digitize pre-pandemic processes to remain on the same path, I recommend campuses save their money as you won’t move yourselves from the crosshairs of the pandemic. But if you are truly ready to change what you do and how you do it, this new player could be just what the market needed. 

7 Strategies to Create Campus Affinity in a Digital World

Welcome to the new normal. With the reality setting in that digital will become a part of the fall and beyond, many are struggling to attract students to their school without the actual campus aspect. Since online classes sterilize the in-person experience and level the playing field, numerous campus leaders have already expressed their concern on how they can foster their campus affinity through the digital layer. 

Without an immediate answer for them, I took some time to think about how other industries create online and social affinity for me. Immediately, Apple and Nike popped into mind.

So what makes Apple and Nike different in the market?

It is not their computer or shoes but instead what they stand for. If they solely focused on their products in their message, Apple and Nike would be like any other. Because there are numerous competitors selling electronics or athletic wear, they would get lost in the other advertisements.

Apple’s mission statement is “Bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.”

They are also not the cheapest option, significantly higher actually. However, they have built a followership based on what they stand for: quality through simple design, in order to support your experience. Customers that buy their product know that they are purchasing quality products, and they continue to do so because of the personal connection they receive (‘Why’ statement).

Nike’s mission statement is “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.”  

*If you have a body, you are an athlete.

In the higher education market, there is a lot of noise around “the best.” Nike and Apple do not come out and claim best. They let their consumers decide that based on the quality of their products and the accomplishments that people connected to them achieve.

Similarly, the ‘Why’ for schools need to be showcased. The reality is that most students do not choose a college because of “what” you offer: courses, dorms, majors, top faculty. Students want to personally be a part of a community that can inspire and push them towards success. You need to create a connection to WHY they should join and gain affinity to your campus.

Every school should try this 3 Step Campus Affinity strategy exercise in order to reshape your “Why” brand in the market:

  1. List the reasons that students should choose your campus.
  2. Do the same for a competing school. 
  3. Cross out the shared ones. The remaining ones under your campus are the WHY answers that you should focus on spotlighting. It is what will uniquely attract prospective students.

You need to unconsciously resonate to your consumers. For all of the struggling schools at this pandemic time, you need to stand for more than the knowledge you disseminate, the best faculty, top rankings, graduation rates, programs you offer and your campus. Instead, represent how your campus will transform someone’s life and develop a sense of community. You need to connect with the human that wants to attend your campus, not the number that they will fill in the institution-centric metrics.

Below are some strategies to foster campus affinity.

create digital campus affinity graphic

What A Prospective College Student Is Looking For: A Hybrid Experience

REASON I: Comfort

The mind of a seventeen-year-old is extremely different from a forty-year-olds. Not saying that all who work in the Higher Ed industry are that age, but you get the point. 

Although the world around us is advancing, people are still comfortable with what they grew up with. I hear my parents talk about their ‘good old days’ with paper maps, VCR’s, cars without seatbelts, rotary phones, and pagers. Might I add that I do not know how to use those, nor do I know what some of those actually are.

My lifestyle, along with many of my peers, includes a digital GPS, wireless calling, self-driving cars, high quality pictures in seconds, and social media. We carry a handheld device as our main necessity throughout the day. Our comforts are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum. Simply because that is what we each grew up with. 

Same goes for what a prospective college student is looking for. Input from that actual age group will help schools figure out what they need to adjust. 

Their necessities are usually very different from what a 1970s baby thinks they are. In my college checklist, I have added a well implemented hybrid campus. Although that will be rare to find at this stage, hopefully that is in the near future. 

Not only do I want safety from the pandemic, I want the flexibility and independence of a hybrid campus. It uses easily navigable technologies and apps that us students are familiar with. We are attracted to campuses that are digitizing with the rest of the world because they are able to provide the most efficient, interesting classes and lifestyle for us. Students are able to relate more to what is occurring on a technological campus compared to a traditional one. 

With all of this in mind, here are some suggestions that colleges should consider adding and focusing on when changing up their courses and institutions: 

  • Giving students the option to either attend or simply tune into lectures.
  •  Add the course schedule / plan to an online learning platform, in order to allow students the freedom to complete the assignments whenever it works best for them (as completed by the due date).
  • If your course or lecture is online, consider a smaller meeting time that students can attend to extend their understanding on a specific topic (online or in person, depending on the circumstance). It gives them the personal, social aspect of education.
  • Figure out ways to incorporate more small groups or spread out activities on campus for students to participate in, most will want something to do outside of their dorm rooms and apartments.

REASON II: Independence

A hybrid learning experience opens the door up for students to choose how they want to manage their schedules. It is up to them to learn the responsibilities of completing their work on time, attending the mandatory lectures, and functioning through digital learning platforms. We are adults, and we want to be treated with the same respect and responsibility as the other adults. 

It also gives us a mix of the digital and social side of learning. Hybrid helps the students that want to work simultaneously, struggle with sitting in lecture halls for hours, and are more organized with technological integration. It expands to a more personalized education as students can pick what method works best for them. 

REASON III: Preparation

The next step after college, for most, is a career or internship. That world is shifting towards digitizing a lot of their functions. Going to a traditional, brick and mortar school does not prepare us for the career world that we are going to step into post-college. 

Different careers have quickly adjusted to becoming digital since the pandemic affected them, such as online food ordering, meetings, and shopping. The sad truth is that those who did not shift did not survive. Adding technology to a curriculum and lifestyle is setting your students up for success as each career is now incorporating online options.

Open your ears and eyes to the voices of students that walk onto your campus. Take a look at what they grew up and are most comfortable with. Doing this will also set you up to attract the future generations, as they will come in with similar mentalities on advanced technology’s integration to your campus. They all will provide you with more insight than any other staff or administration can.