Future-proof your college before it’s too late

In any ecosystem, if one waits long enough, eventually a cataclysmic disruption occurs. Examples range from ice ages to digital cameras and mobile phones. When an environment becomes out of balance or a system is too reliant on archaic technology, something never-before-seen will come and change the game.

The final years at Blockbuster Video, Kodak Corporation, and Toys “R” Us, all share the consistent systemic failure to respond to disruptive threats: a willful ignorance to reexamine and adjust their product, services, and business model. Higher education is behaving much the same way. Until institutions acknowledge both the impending disruptive threat and the risk of not appropriately responding, higher ed remains a vulnerable enterprise.

Since the proliferation of the internet and digitization of information, we have witnessed several warning signs. Online course delivery, e-textbooks, the rise and fall of large for-profit institutions, MOOCS, certificates, and micro-credentialing have each commanded attention in the past two decades. While some of these innovations have persisted and some failed, each represents a foreshock prior to a large seismic event that we have not yet experienced.

An unchanging model
A longitudinal look at American higher education shows the business model remains unchanged. Institutions continue to cyclically recruit (a dwindling number of) students and steward them through a one-size-fits-all curriculum and delivery model that much resembles the student experience at Harvard University in 1636. Students arrive in late August, take four or five classes each semester and go home in May. After four years, a degree is granted. Though some classes are now hybrid, flipped, online, or leverage other high-impact practices, the overarching student experience is still the same.

In 2018, we live in an on-demand world. Consumers can start and stop television and movie content, purchase only the individual song they like, and are surrounded by digital assistants that can deliver the entirety of the internet through voice commands. Facebook reported 2.19 billion active monthly users in the first quarter of 2018, Amazon serves 310 million customers, Netflix has 100 million subscribers, and Google currently has seven unique products with over one billion monthly active users each. Collectively Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google are known on Wall Street as the “FANG” stocks and share dominance of the tech sector. Though their stocks fluctuate every day, collectively the four FANGs are worth about $1.5 trillion, roughly equivalent to the entire GNP of Canada.

Any of the FANG companies, and even some of their less-well-positioned competitors, has the resources to purchase a university in financial distress, assume their accreditation and infrastructure, and begin delivering academic content and granting degrees. I highlight them not for their purchasing power, but because they have each changed the way we live, consume, expect, and demand content and services. Billions of college-aged people are already users, have linked their profile to their bank account, and have multiple networked devices through which they interact and consume information.


Is web filtering ever appropriate for higher ed?

Halls of learning are places for learning and exploration. They are also a treasure trove of sensitive and valuable information, making them prime targets for attack by cybercriminals. In an environment where people are rightly sensitive about surveillance or limitation, is it ever an appropriate choice to filter web traffic?

In a previous post, we discussed the delicate balancing act security practitioners must perform to protect the safety of our flock while respecting and maintaining privacy. It’s important to keep that same discussion in mind while contemplating the prospect of imposing any sort of limitation on exploration, especially web-filtering.

Why filter web surfing at all?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern email service that doesn’t currently have some sort of spam filtering. We’ve all collectively accepted this as the New Normal, and given the enormous proportion of email traffic that’s now unsolicited or malicious, few people would regard this as a problematic limitation.

It’s difficult to draw a direct comparison between email and web filtering, as the World Wide Web is a massive place, much of which is not indexed by search engines and is only accessible if you’re given its specific location (most often in the form of a URL). Whereas email is pushed directly to you, a website usually sits passively until something or someone pulls it down to your machine. Spam filters stop junk from being actively thrust upon you, while web filters limit you from downloading potentially harmful data.


9 things your online learning program should know about students

Online students say tuition and fees are among their top three deciding factors when it comes to choosing an institution, according to a Learning House survey of 1,500 students who are considering, enrolled in, or have graduated from an online learning program.

The report reveals a number of key trends as online learning evolves and becomes widely-used for career outcomes. Seventy-four percent of surveyed students enrolled in their online learning program due to career reasons.

1. Mobile-friendly programs are important to surveyed students–87 percent say they use mobile devices to search for their online program of study, and 67 percent use mobile devices to complete online coursework.

2. Career services are also a priority for online students–because 75 percent pursue a degree for career-focused reasons, career services are a critical part of their post-graduation success. Surveyed online students say services such as working with a career adviser (50 percent), receiving resume help (48 percent), and having job search assistance (40 percent) would be useful.

3. Eighty-six percent of surveyed students say they believe the value of their degrees equals or exceeds what they paid for them. Among students who have experienced both face-to-face and virtual classrooms, 85 percent say online learning is as good or better than attending courses on campus.


5 tips for the best ROI from mass notification systems

Many campuses lack safety measures such as mobile safety apps and anonymous reporting tools, according to a new survey that sheds light on mass notification systems and a number of holes in campus safety efforts.

Just 22 percent of campuses surveyed in the Rave Mobile Safety study offer the ability to submit an anonymous tip to authorities, despite gun violence and mental health being among institutions’ top security concerns (23 percent and 22 percent).

Ninety-six percent of students in higher education own a smartphone, yet only 38 percent of surveyed institutions offer a mobile safety app for campus communities. The remaining 62 percent of campuses may offer apps soon, the survey notes, because 45 percent of respondents say they are researching or already are implementing a safety app.

Campuses should act quickly to leverage students’ smartphone use and offer more safety tools via devices, experts say.


How to develop soft skills in the digital age

With the rise of automation, organizations worldwide have made soft skills like communication, collaboration, and critical thinking a top priority. To work successfully alongside machines, recent grads and the current workforce must rely on what makes them uniquely human.

According to the ManpowerGroup’s 2016-2017 Talent Shortage Survey, “the most important skill you can nurture is learnability” to stay employable for the long-term. Ironically, the term “learnability” often refers to how easy a software product or interface is to use. However, in the case of employability, it means professionals must become lifelong learners to remain usable themselves.

There is a glaring need for soft skills in the workforce, but a significant gap remains between what skills recent grads think they have and what organizations believe they’re proficient in. Two recent surveys—one that polled students and one that gathered the employer perspective—revealed some startling discrepancies.

  • Oral communication skills: More than 65 percent of college students feel very confident they’re prepared to use oral communication skills in the workplace, while less than 30 percent of employers feel the same.
  • Critical-thinking skills: Nearly 70 percent of students are confident in their critical-thinking skills, while just 26 percent of employers have the same confidence in their abilities.
  • Collaboration skills: Nearly 80 percent of students believe they can work in teams successfully, while less than 40 percent of employers share that sentiment.

The soft-skill-development issue
These discrepancies are alarming, but what causes them?

The soft skills gap exists because these competencies are nearly impossible to assess and improve at scale using traditional methods. Not only do instructors often lack the time and resources to work with students one-on-one to develop these skills, but paper-based assessments can’t accurately measure every soft skill.

The increase in online course offerings adds another layer to the problem. Because instructors, students, and their peers often have less face-to-face contact in distance learning environments, it’s difficult to facilitate the necessary interactions to build soft skills. As a result, many learners don’t properly develop these core competencies prior to graduation.


Experts say we’re approaching a third wave of higher-ed reform

As the global economy changes and demands more highly-skilled workers, some experts are tracking what they call a third wave of postsecondary education reform focused on making sure graduates have career-long alignment between their education and the job market.

The new report from Jobs for the Future (JFF) and Pearson notes that a career path won’t have a single-job trajectory, but instead will require a lifetime of learning. Higher education will have to experience significant reform to create graduates equipped for such a workforce, the report’s authors claim.

“As the future of work is realized, what makes us human is what will make us employable; education systems are already evolving to develop and measure the skills that matter, but there is much more that can be done,” says Maria Flynn, JFF’s president and chief executive officer.

Higher education’s first wave of reform focused on access, according to the report–helping more people enroll in higher-ed programs. The second wave addressed academic success and getting more students to cross the finish line and earn certificates and degrees.

This latest higher-ed reform wave focuses on what the report’s authors call “demand-driven education,” where programs will zero in on ensuring graduates are job-ready and have access to rewarding careers over the course of their lifetimes. This third wave of higher-ed reform will create an education system that adapts to the needs of learners and employers, and it responds to signals from society to ensure that desired job qualifications and available training align.


States show progress in measuring non-degree credentials

A new 50-state scan reveals that while no state has comprehensive data about all types of non-degree credentials, including certificates, licenses, and industry certifications, states are improving their data collection practices around non-degree credential attainment.

Because full-time workers with credentials earn more than those without credentials, states recognize the value of non-degree credentials and are including them in statewide educational attainment goals, according to Measuring Non-Degree Credential Attainment from the Workforce Data Quality Campaign.

States are most likely to have data about public for-credit certificate programs, registered apprenticeship certificates, and licenses.

Thirty-six states report having most or all individual-level data on for-credit certificates from public two-year institutions in their state. Twenty-seven states report having most or all data about registered apprenticeship certificates, and 22 states report having most or all licensing data.


7 college presidents on “the worst leadership advice I ever received”

eCampus News asked a handful of college presidents: What is the worst leadership advice you’ve ever received? Here’s what they had to say.

“If anything, that great leaders are ‘born, not made’—as if one can’t learn or improve leadership skills.”
—Michael V. Drake, MD, president, The Ohio State University

“Work harder.”
—Michael J. Smith, president, Berkeley College, New York and New Jersey

“I wouldn’t consider it bad advice, but more lessons learned. I’ve been fortunate to have strong mentors who have guided me by sharing the tough lessons they’ve learned. One mentor shared with me a story about when he wasn’t true to himself. He tried to shape his work around the values and priorities of those who served before him. It wasn’t successful. True success came when he realized he needed to make a change, and be himself.”
—Richard Rhodes, president and chief executive officer, Austin Community College, Texas

“I can’t say I’ve ever received bad advice about leadership. I am fortunate to work with some of the most qualified and exceptional leaders in education, business, and government. They all have valuable advice that can be applied to different areas. Even if it is not applicable to what I do, I gain knowledge and experience.”
—J. David Armstrong, Jr., president, Broward College

“I was told that to be perceived as a strong leader I had to be feared by those who reported to me. If they feared me, they would always do what I wanted. If they did not fear me, it was because I was perceived as weak.”
—Elsa Núñez, president, Eastern Connecticut State University

“The worst advice (or observation) I’ve seen in a leader is not being visible on campus or in the community. As a college president, you are the ‘living logo’ and it’s important to have that presence on campus with faculty, staff, and students and, of course, representing the college in the community. The worst leaders I’ve observed were ones who were attached to their office and only appeared for special events or meetings. A president can learn a great deal from the old leadership approach of MBWA (Management by Walking Around).”
—John J. Rainone, president, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, Virginia

“That data is useful. Data is very useful, critical even, in management, but that is not leadership.”
—Paul J. LeBlanc, president, Southern New Hampshire University


Why are colleges closing and what can we do?

The recent closure of Mt. Ida College in Newton, Mass., and the purchase of its assets (debt) by the UMass Amherst has dominated the higher education attention of the Boston press. The size of the problem was highlighted when Carlos Santiago, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, noted that “in the last five years, we’ve had 15 Mt. Idas,” and when the Boston Business Journal editorialized “Mass. must prepare for the next Mt. Ida.” Despite concerns over small, financially vulnerable, colleges in Massachusetts and across the U.S., it is possible that the bigger threat is to regional state universities—especially in New England.

A recent book by Nathan Grawe, economics professor at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, introduces a sophisticated econometric model that traces the effects of declining demographics both regionally and across various types of colleges and universities. According to Grawe, you cannot simply extrapolate from general demographic trends to discern what enrollments will be at various institutions. When economic and sociological factors are taken into account, the effects of demographic trends are both moderated and exacerbated for various types of institutions.

Interestingly, New England contains both ends of the continuum. According to Grawe’s analysis, elite universities (think Harvard, MIT, and Wellesley) will actually experience increased demand in the upcoming years as more highly educated parents seek to send their children to more selective institutions. The brunt of the demographic decline will be experienced by regional state universities.

The problems for regional universities
First and foremost, the majority of their students come from the region. In contrast, elite universities and the next level of national universities (think U Mass Amherst) draw students from outside the region and the country, allowing them to compensate for declining demand with out-of-state or -nation students. As the regional pool of high school students declines, the state universities have few options for making up enrollment shortfalls. Grawe’s model projects a 40 percent drop in first-time college freshmen for regional universities in the Boston area between 2012 and 2029!

Second, approximately one-half of new enrollments in the regional state universities come from transfer students. These students are coming either from other four-year institutions or from community colleges. Grawe’s model predicts an eight percent decline in community-college enrollment. This will compound the decline at regional state universities, which receive as much as 60 percent of their transfer students from community colleges. Even this may be an understatement because my own research indicates that, at lower enrollments, community colleges serve as net substitutes for four-year institutions drawing students away from them opposed to sending students to them. Since Grawe’s projections for regional state universities relate only to new first-time enrollees, the declines in transfer students will be on top of his projected 40 percent drop.

It is hard to imagine that state universities can survive in their present forms in the face of such declines. It is not surprising that Massachusetts Representative Jay Kaufman recently argued for a restructuring of public colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.


5 things every college must know about cloud computing

Like many colleges and universities in Ohio, Shawnee State University faced financial pressure from state-led tuition restrictions and a mandate to reduce operating expenses. Its existing IT infrastructure had served it well since its establishment in the late 1980s. But 35 years later, school IT leaders recognized a need and opportunity to modernize by centralizing key applications under a single, unified digital umbrella, allowing administrators to better manage recruitment and serve constituents in a timely way.

Shawnee is just one of many campuses across the nation embracing cloud computing as it has moved into its second decade of existence. Indeed, Gartner’s 2018 CIO Agenda Survey identifies cloud computing as a top-five priority area for new higher tech spending.

Most colleges and universities are considering cloud computing because they recognize its potential for significantly improving financial, operational, and educational processes. At the same time, many know that failing to move to the cloud could create a perception that they are behind the times, which could hamper recruitment efforts with today’s tech-savvy prospective students.

Nonetheless, many universities have been relatively slow to embrace the cloud for a few simple reasons. First, because it’s not always cheap or easy to overhaul IT systems. And second, because cloud represents a fundamental technological change and perceived challenges that many organizations do not feel they have the expertise, bandwidth, or resources to address.

Fortunately, there are ways around these challenges, and it starts by remembering that cloud computing is part of a journey to a modern campus—not the ultimate destination. What’s needed is a strategic approach that combines on-premise services with advanced cloud solutions.

Here are five things to keep in mind when considering moving to the cloud.

1. Be clear about your goals
Industry pundits will tell you that if you’re not in the cloud, you’re costing yourself money and opportunity. And you are not meeting student expectations for a fully digital scholastic experience that mirrors the interaction they have with technology in their private lives. But none of those reasons justify shifting to the cloud because, at the end of the day, any move needs to be about the specific needs and aspirations of each individual school.

Before beginning any migration, clearly determine your goals for cloud computing. Is it about meeting certain government requirements? Is it related to a need to reduce swelling administrative costs? Is it about competing to attract and retain the best and brightest students? Or is it all of the above?

Clearly articulating priorities and potential payoffs will help people throughout your institution focus on the essential aspects of the cloud journey.