These innovative tools can help college presidents model and drive success across an institution.

5 things college presidents need in their toolbox

These innovative tools can help college presidents model and drive success across an institution

Today’s job market is changing so dramatically due to technology that by 2030, 40 percent of Americans could experience significant contraction in their occupations. What’s more, 8-9 percent of the jobs that will exist then don’t yet exist. These changes have big implications for college presidents.

This dynamic presents a challenge for higher education institutions–and particularly for college presidents and provosts–who are charged with the leadership responsibility of attracting and preparing their students to become contributing members of the future workforce.

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Fortunately, there are new tools and technologies designed to help them stay ahead of the curve and maintain relevance into the future. Here are five innovative tools that should be in today’s college president’s toolbox for driving both student and overall institutional success.

Proactive career readiness

Whether attending a four-year public or private institution or a community college, students often still declare a major based on a “gut feeling” of where their interests coincide with an academic track. This is particularly common in the humanities, but STEM students also may not have a realistic idea as to where their degrees will take them professionally. And while college is still largely viewed as an important maturation stage and growth experience, that is no longer enough by itself. Both students and their families expect more–they expect graduates to be qualified to pursue their career goals.

College presidents must do better to ensure students understand and are driving toward the career outcomes of their programs of study. Furthermore, those programs of study should reflect the needs of the surrounding areas and the types of jobs that are being created. Cybersecurity is a good example. Until a few years ago, cybersecurity was a limited part of a computer science degree or learned in the field. Now, many schools offer dedicated cybersecurity programs, especially in the Washington, D.C. area due to proximity to federal agencies and intelligence organizations.

Part of this pre-career preparation includes approaching career readiness as a tech-enabled, holistic program that students complete along with their degree track. By comparing data on today’s workforce skillset requirements to current degree coursework, institutions can made proper adaptations to align with workforce evolution while students are attending college.

Additionally, career readiness programs address many of the human skills that working adults need but may not have developed in the absence of experience, such as professionalism, business ethics, and verbal/written communication. Readiness programs also teach job seeking and interviewing skills, online safety and computer/network fundamentals. These programs deliver entry-level employees to the workforce who have a better understanding of what’s required to work in an office and how to conduct themselves appropriately.

Income sharing agreements (ISAs)

With recent media attention on how government student loan debt is forcing young adults to defer major life milestones like marriage, children and home ownership, it’s no wonder that income sharing agreements are gaining attention. An ISA works by enabling students to secure loans from their higher education institution according to terms that are based on their future earning potential. Essentially, the school is making an investment in the student and structuring their return on investment according to the student’s expected career outcomes.

Proponents of this model argue that the investment concept motivates both parties–the student works harder to keep up their end of the bargain, and the school provides the support and resources that result in successful repayment. An ISA also provides a clear connection between a career choice and a financial outcome because repayment terms and rates are closely linked to future earnings potential.

Detractors of ISAs see them as another form of debt that will saddle a student with financial obligations after graduation. And since most ISAs are limited to $10,000 per year, opponents point out that many students will still need to incur traditional student loans. Institutional leaders need to think carefully about whether ISAs are a good fit for their student population and the academic concentrations they pursue.

Nudge technology

Nudge theory is an element of behavioral science that uses positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to influence behavior and decision making. Nudge technology provides a platform to deliver personalized suggestions at scale via effective communication channels. Within the context of higher education, nudge technology is being implemented to influence students to make good decisions, meet deadlines, and stay on track to achieve their goals.

Nudging also helps institutions that may be struggling with enrollment and retention. Today’s “digital native” students are highly dependent on their smartphones and responsive to text messages. They also expect personalized attention and experiences–this is their norm. Savvy institutions can capitalize on this to interact with prospective and current students by sending text messages that propose suggested actions and provide decision support. The key is to get students to make decisions that achieve desired outcomes, like registering for classes, meeting with their adviser, or even going to the gym.

Artificial intelligence

As with commercial enterprises, higher education institutions can benefit from the algorithms and predictions that emerge from data analysis. Large data sets can yield new insights from previous courses of action and inform future decisions about the characteristics of students who do well, the types of behaviors that benefit from intervention, and the activities that can be automated.

For example, a chat bot might be able to answer frequently asked questions that previously required a staff person’s time. Artificial intelligence (AI) can underpin nudge technology as well. As different nudges are deployed and tested, the data on outcomes can yield more effective approaches.

AI is sometimes seen as a replacement for human interaction and may feel threatening to academic staff, but it’s important to remember that today’s digital natives are comfortable with quick, automated answers to routine questions. They’re going to look online for what they need before making a call. When those calls occur, they’ll be for more complex issues that require specialized expertise and higher levels of problem-solving and support from a human being.


Blockchain is starting to make its way out of the realm of cryptocurrency and financial transactions. The value of blockchain is that it serves as a trusted public ledger of transactions and information. It’s trusted because it’s highly distributed across many network nodes, and each hashed block builds upon the previous one, making it virtually impossible to change the data stored in the ledger. This immutability has made blockchain ideal for capturing financial transactions, but it can also be used to accurately convey academic credentials, such as transcripts.

The responsibility of maintaining the integrity of academic records is held by the president of an institution, and this has traditionally been upheld by having the institution retain access to student records and transcripts. However, blockchained credentials allow a college president to maintain academic integrity and prevent falsification while decentralizing control of the credential – thus giving the student more control over a valuable piece of their academic journey.

Adoption of blockchain technology requires the use of cloud computing, because blockchains largely exist in public clouds. Thus, college presidents and their CIOs should consider their overall adoption of cloud technologies as part of the decision to embrace blockchain.

These five tech-driven tools can be pivotal for university and college presidents interested in incorporating innovation into their strategic plans. Any one or a combination of them will help an institution move the needle in meeting the needs of their constituents and the future workforce.

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