Recently my colleagues Rob Robinson, Eric McIntosh, and I kicked off a conversation about change management that can (and does) keep us deep in discussion for days on end! Today’s higher education leaders find themselves stretched by rising expectations from all quarters (students, parents, funders, boards, legislators, accreditors, and community members) while simultaneously confronting increasing student complexity, the proliferation of disconnected data, limited resources, and an emerging set of new roles and skills necessary to navigate it all.
Each of these themes deserves a much deeper discussion, which is exactly what’s to come in following conversations.
For now though, I wanted to summarize some of the suggestions we briefly touched upon. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though. We hope you’ll join us for the deeper dives where we’ll also hear from some of our partner campuses who are doing a terrific job navigating these tides of change.
Managing Internal & External Expectations
The pain points of delivering quality educational experiences in today’s environment abound: compliance and performance reporting burdens; rankings surveys; legislative and board pressures; budget constraints; high student debt and the need to control tuition costs; declining enrollments nationwide and a competitive enrollment landscape; parents and students looking for evidence of ROI; the difficulty of data wrangling and providing that evidence.
Finding wins in this sea of expectations and demands requires purposeful attention to people, processes, and technology. There are no silver bullets, but we can make meaningful headway by working purposefully with the culture of our institutions:
- Anchor the work in a spirit of partnership and understanding. Listen to the perspectives and concerns of stakeholders to build partnerships on mutual understanding and trust.
- One of the best gifts leaders can give their teams is clarity on values, goals, and objectives. Facilitate bi-directional conversations across the organization, often.
- Remember that if you prioritize everything, nothing gets done, and if you don’t establish the criteria for prioritization, you’ll fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent.
- Transformation is a long game so find your early wins, celebrate wins along the way, and be prepared to iterate to keep momentum.
- Be a mythbuster! When expectations are based on outdated assumptions, we need to be willing and able to shine light on the truth with evidence.
Serving Today’s Students
The “new traditional” student is accelerating and looks different based upon institution type. While all of higher education is seeing shifts in student demographics, access institutions are adapting to the most change. The increasing diversity goes way beyond race and ethnicity. Today we have more first-generation students, part-timers, returning learners, veterans and military, distance learners, international students, workers continuing education, and more students with financial need. Consequently, the burdens to support learners are equally diverse, just a few examples being specialized advising, active learning, engaged/experiential learning, linkages to career/vocation, and the increasing need to ensure seamless articulation for student transfer. In light of this, there’s an urgent need to interrogate conventional wisdom and ensure that our “best practices” are demonstrated effective with specific populations.
- Getting to know your data means you get to know your students. Our institutions become their “best selves” by really tuning in and being willing to be data informed.
- Personalization of communications, learning, advising, and coaching moves the needle on student outcomes.
- Don’t assume that long-held beliefs hold true for all students. Risk isn’t binary and demography is not destiny.
Navigating Limited Resources
Let’s face it, most institutions aren’t forecasting significant funding increases or budget surpluses. The reality is that new initiatives and investments in higher education are typically financed through the reallocation of funds and we’re often asked to do more with less. So how do we find wins? How do we quantify the real costs of what we do? How do we know what works?
- Be mindful of initiative fatigue. Targeted initiatives are more impactful than universal approaches or an exhausting flurry of uncoordinated activity.
- Create a culture of evidence to optimize your resources. Make sure people have access to data, the ability to use it, and the expectation that data will be used to inform and assess interventions.
- Seek scalable, statistically sound measurements and attribution of impact. This provides transparency about what works – and what doesn’t.
- Remember, partnerships deepen resources and establish shared goals.
Evolving Institutional Roles and Skills
With the emergence of new technologies, increasing student diversity, limited resources, and increasing performance expectations, new kinds of roles and skills are necessary for leaders and their teams. Traditional roles like advisor, institutional researcher, and even faculty are being challenged to adapt. New titles such as chief innovation officer and institutional effectiveness officer embody the need for boundary-spanning impact. What can we do proactively to support this evolution of roles and skills?
- Don’t be confined to the perceived boundary of your role – reach out, collaborate, partner in problem solving!
- Facilitate innovation by creating “our data” culture and share the keys across the institution.
- Prepare your future leaders for the age of analytics. Data literacy underpins every job now, so look for ways to foster it.
Everyone is in the process of managing these changes in higher education, and we could all use a little help and encouragement. I hope you’ll join us in the coming months for the rest of the series on change management as Eric, Rob, and I dig further into these topics with a few of our amazing partners.