Beyond the Post: 9/11/2020


Beyond Academics asks to hear your thoughts, comments, and opinions on the topics we’ve covered throughout the week. Let’s keep the conversation about Higher Education going.

Our Posts

“An Entrepreneurial Approach to the Higher Ed Solution” by Joe Abraham

Joe Abraham, serial entrepreneur, writes about the importance of viewing higher education through a business lens. Innovation, transparency, and humility are all crucial in fixing a broken system and serving the customer (student) better. Is your organization innovating? Or are you just re-paving old roads?

“Okay Higher Ed, Now What?” by John Thompson-Haas

There is no return to the way things were pre-COVID. Higher Ed must adapt to the new world, change their process, and create student-centric value. In this article, JTH poses some important questions. Do you have the answers?

Other Posts

“Where Does Higher Education Go Next?” by David Rosowsky for Forbes

The pandemic has forced higher education organizations to transform—

“The upside: change was needed and perhaps long overdue. The downside: it’s expensive and not everyone will be successful.”

BA Bold Thoughts:

While it will be expensive, it will be more costly if schools don’t shift.

Opportunities to transform:

  1. Create value by designing an institution that is more “Fit for Purpose” for who you serve
  2. Develop digital culture that’s welcoming, productive, and efficient
  3. Use online presence to differentiate and scale to a broader market

All three of these opportunities are not only very attainable but critical. Schools must recognize the value.

Read the full post >>>

“Designing the Future of Liberal Education” by Steven Mintz for Inside Higher Ed

Is the best way to save liberal education to radically reimagine it? This article talks about the heightened emphasis on applied or experimental learning. The goal is to identify a path in life and develop sense of purpose and opportunity.

“We mustn’t kill liberal education in order to save it, but we must also recognize that it is under genuine threat and that if it fails to adapt, it will only become even more marginal and peripheral.”

BA Bold Thoughts:

  • Liberal Education needs to rewrite the narrative, framing itself as a viable way to prepare for the workforce.
  • For Liberal Education to survive, must it prioritize the practical? If so, when do the previous topics of importance—ethics, art appreciation, history, logic, rhetoric—become overrun by utilitarian needs?

Read the full post >>>

“The Pandemic and Community College Enrollment” by Iris Palmer for New America

There is a lot of uncertainty during this time, especially for the demographics that make up the majority of community college students. As a result, there has been a considerable drop in enrollment.

“We shouldn’t just be concerned about colleges but also about the people who will need to seek training to rejoin the labor market.”

BA Bold Thoughts:

  • Community colleges are essential to strengthening the post-pandemic economy.
  • Community colleges must do everything they can to accommodate students in the new world, and change their models to be more student-centric.

Read the full post >>>

Tell Us Your Thoughts

Comment on this post, reach out on LinkedIn, or submit your take on any of these topics via email. We want to talk with you about the future of Higher Ed.

No comments to show.

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

Beyond the Post: 9/4/2020


Beyond Academics asks to hear your thoughts, comments, and opinions on the topics we’ve covered throughout the week. Let’s keep the conversation about Higher Education going.

Our Posts

“Higher Ed: What Are You Paying For?” by Matt Alex

In this article, Matt Alex talks about creating value in a campus that is primarily digital. We want to know your thoughts. Where is the value in a digital campus? Are students still going to be willing to pay for the university name? What justifies tuition costs, especially now?

“The End of Sneakernet” by John Thompson-Haas

John Thompson- Haas explains how the old administrative processes of colleges and universities, the “sneakernet” cannot sustain the shift to digital learning. How is your organization evolving their systems to accommodate both faculty and students? (That is if they’re updating their systems at all.)

“Who Is the Man in the Lobby?” by Matt Alex

We must begin holding ourselves accountable for the future of Higher Ed. We need to create true value for students and stop being a part of lobby transformations. Are you the man in the lobby? How are you adding actual value to your organization?

“What A Prospective College Student Is Looking For: A Hybrid Experience” by Sureya Alex, College Prospect

Today’s students are not only capable of hybrid learning, they crave it. The comfort, independence, and preparation that go along with hybrid learning are of great value to prospective students. Does your organization offer true hybrid learning? Or is it just traditional learning with an online add-on that fails to meet expectations?

Other Posts

“Colleges Should Go Back to School on Remote Learning” from Inside Higher Ed.

This article by Ryan Craig sums up how higher ed institutions continue to fail to focus on the right initiatives.

BA Bold Thoughts:

  • Schools continue to teach in the traditional model (live lecture) without evolving to a true digital learning culture… “exacerbating inequality, with underrepresented minority and low-income students facing even more roadblocks to engagement and persistence.”
  • Schools will say they tried to improve online learning but they invested so much time on the prescriptive academic year and hosting students on campus that lost focus on the medium that creates their value now.
  • Remaining Status Quo will never produce better outcomes for students and faculty. It’s time to focus on initiatives like creating an online culture that rivals Netflix. This will produce exponential growth and value.

Read the full blog >>>

“Will COVID-19 Revive Faculty Power?” from The Chronicle of Higher Education

While the pandemic has almost shuttered traditional learning, it has now shined a huge light on the opportunities that showcase the true asset of an institution, that is the faculty and the knowledge they disseminate.

BA Bold Thoughts: 4 Opportunities for Faculty

  1. Become Digital – Being digital is more than zoom, it is creating culture of learning and engagement.
  2. Use Modern Learning Platforms – to teach to all the 5 learning chemistries of digital natives.
  3. Unbundling Content – will shed light on amazing content that can be absorbed on demand and could tailor academic paths.
  4. Educational Market place – iTunes has empowered music, app stores have empowered developers, educational marketplaces will empower knowledge disseminators to create amazing artifacts for their educational domain. This will also foster peer to peer collaborations & allow access to all students.

Read the full blog >>>

“All Majors Allowed” by Kate Szumanski

This is a great article to justify why campuses have to reimagine the Future of the Academic Enterprise. While yes, businesses have to hire liberal arts majors, it’s as important for universities and colleges to create cross disciplinary academic paths.

BA Bold Thought

Liberal Arts majors run many of the top tech companies. It’s time to rename these majors and design and instill them with various cross-disciplinary topics, like AI, Blockchain, Future of Work, Google, Design Thinking, just to name a few.

Read the full blog >>>

Tell Us Your Thoughts

Comment on this post, reach out on LinkedIn, or submit your take on any of these topics via email. We want to talk with you about the future of Higher Ed.

No comments to show.

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. 



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:

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. 

Chicago Startup Led By Seasoned Entrepreneurs Helps Higher Ed Digitize The College Experience In As Little As 8 Weeks

Beyond Academics Leaders (from left to right) Joe Abraham, Matthew Alex, and Joel Mathew Smiling in Front of Chicago Skyline

Matthew Alex couldn’t have predicted a global pandemic when he launched Beyond Academics to help higher Ed transform, but it was the final ingredient of the perfect storm that is claiming its casualties in higher education.

Alex is a former partner at Deloitte, where he led the Student Technology and Transformation practice—overseeing some of the most complex Student Technology Transformation projects in the country. He also led Deloitte’s Smart Campus and Future of Work initiatives.

“Other than a handful of elite, incumbent schools with 10 and 11-figure endowments and globally-recognized names, most colleges and universities have months, not years, to make a total digital transformation,” says Alex “most schools are either completely delusional or cautiously concerned about the future. What both groups have in common is that neither group has a plan that has any sustainable future. They think ‘zoom university’ is the way out of the storm.”

With big tech like Google and Amazon announcing their plans to enter the space, 40% of future freshmen saying they don’t plan to pursue 4-year degrees this fall, and a growing population of digital natives who have no interest in sitting in a lecture hall for 2 hours, the proverbial writing is on the wall. But higher ed is in denial. 

“Coronavirus was just the catalyst that accelerated the inevitable,” says serial entrepreneur and co-founder Joe Abraham. “Higher education has typically had an anti-business, anti-entrepreneurial mindset within its internal operation, and it’s about to cost a lot of careers. They’ve thought of themselves as so different and so separate, that they’ve lost the basic business fundamentals of customer-centric product design, voice-of-the-customer-driven innovation, and an agile, iterative pursuit of being fit for purpose.” 

But there is hope. Thought leaders and authentic innovators in higher education who recognized the warning signs a long time ago are sounding the alarm. Dr. Rufus Glasper, CEO of The League of Innovation in the Community College says “there is a sense of urgency for any college campus to shelve traditional strategic plans, and lift highly nimble and innovative 3, 6 and 12-month roadmaps focused on entrepreneurial transformation, and that requires new thinking,” Glasper said. “You have to establish culture where you can have the opportunity to have an ebb and flow like never before.”

Beyond Academics is helping campuses build and deploy these nimble plans for digital transformation while introducing low-cost ‘bolt-on’ technologies like its Smart Panda tools that automate labor-intensive processes, while making things like transcript portability possible within weeks, not years.

“Digital transformation is not about repaving the old roads of higher education with multi-million dollar student system installations, or synchronous classes delivered over 16-week semesters,” says Alex, “it’s about providing poly-synchronous learning, unbundling of courses into mini-artifacts that can be consumed on-demand, creating off-campus digital affinity for students – the likes of a Minecraft environment, and providing real-time transcript mobility so that students can take multiple classes across multiple schools – at the same time. That’s just the beginning of what the future of higher education looks like.” 

“Senior leadership teams are struggling to visualize the future because they’ve been in a bubble. Their teams are struggling to display entrepreneurial behavior – which is a prerequisite for authentic innovation,” says co-founder and author of Entrepreneurial DNA, Joe Abraham. “Higher education has some of the brightest minds on earth, but they need help breaking past limiting beliefs, and they need to discover the frameworks for how to design and deploy innovation in times of existential crisis. That’s what we need to help them through.”

In addition to Alex’s Future of Work platform and Abraham’s Entrepreneurial Innovation frameworks is 3rd co-founder Joel Mathew’s decades of digital media experience including running a digital marketing agency with clients like Nike, Allstate, Acura, and Rakuten. “Higher ed needs a fresh, customer-centric, and outside-the-industry approach to enrollment strategy in order to engage the digital natives of the future”, Mathews says.