“Edupreneurial” Leadership for Private Colleges

“If you don’t have money to throw at a solution, you’ll need improvisation and empathy.” “The curse of industry knowledge is that it gives you blinders.” “You’ve found your calling when you can use your gifts on things you care about in environments that fit your values.” Those were just a few takeaways for the senior-level enrollment management and marketing communications professionals who gathered in Minneapolis for Summer Seminar last week.

The theme of Summer Seminar 2015, sponsored by The Lawlor Group, was “Rising to the Occasion: Edupreneurial Leadership in Challenging Times” in recognition of the economic, demographic, and technological disruption that has been placing many senior administrators at private colleges and universities in a reactive position as they respond to demands from the marketplace for proof of their institutions’ relevance, distinction, and value.

As a catalyst for more proactive and innovative behavior, this year’s seminar featured four inspiring thought leaders who delivered insights from a variety of industries.

  • Frugal innovation expert and author Simone Ahuja explored the question, “Is it possible that having less can help us do more?” and described her ethnographic research in India to find out how people approach innovation in extreme situations to solve pressing problems with seemingly no resources. Although such a process can seem like alchemy, we actually have a whole lot more to work with than we realize, she argued. “Scarcity reframed is abundance,” she said. “Leverage your ingenuity instead of only depending on resources.”
  • Marketoonist Tom Fishburne continued the focus on edupreneurism by sharing some of his experiences helping challenger brands with limited resources break through in their respective markets. These are companies who look at the playing field and see the rules are stacked against them, so they have to find a way around those rules. Fishburne, whom the Huffington Post recently rated as one of the top presenters at South by Southwest, consistently demonstrated how doodling and creative interaction can help overcome a culture that is often dominated by the ever-present Dr. No at the University of Know.
  • Experience management expert Lou Carbone is the bestselling author of Clued In: How to Keep Customers Coming Back Again and Again, which helped launch the customer experience movement. He has observed managers’ unfortunate tendency to develop myopia when their industry is under fire, when really they should use peripheral vision. He says experience management can derive more value from any of the attendees’ institutions if we just step back, open our minds, and think of things from the customer’s perspective. He reinforced the importance of managing the sensory cues and atmospherics that prospective and current students encounter, whether they are on campus or online. If the experience is not managed, the value of the brand identity atrophies and is called into question.
  • Executive coach and author Richard Leider is regarded as an international visionary on the power of purpose, which he argues is essential to health, happiness, engagement, and longevity. Meaning matters to us as human beings; sometimes we’re pushed by pain and sometimes we’re pulled by possibilities to find purpose. He demonstrated how—particularly during midlife—choice, curiosity, and courage can unlock purpose. And he urged participants to find the extraordinary in the ordinary and, rather than always thinking about saving the day, to savor the day.

This year’s seminar also featured three speakers with expertise specific to the higher education industry, who delivered data and analysis on timely and relevant topics.

  • Gallup Education’s Brandon Busteed shared the latest findings from the Gallup-Purdue Index—including that although being supported and having deep experiential learning while at college makes someone more likely to graduate within four years, feel prepared for life after college, be engaged at work, and be thriving in their well-being, it has no effect on their financial earnings.
  • Education journalist and author Jeff Selingo highlighted some key ideas from his upcoming new book, There is Life After College: Navigating Your Time in School So You are Prepared for the Jobs of Tomorrow. He described the new pathways through college that he foresees, where we will become better at measuring student learning, translating what’s learned in the classroom into what is needed in the working world, and embracing micro-credentials and just-in-time learning. Most of all, we will have to get creative about changing the pricing model for higher education.
  • ACT’s April Hansen shared research on test-takers, revealing patterns of behavior that can help predict where students will enroll. Since institutions now have the technological capability to micro-target students with specific messaging, they can take advantage of such counter-intuitive strategies as buying names of students with preferences that don’t match the institution, yet who are susceptible to acting against their stated preferences.

Taken together, the presenters provided fresh thinking and market intelligence to both encourage and inform eduprenerial behavior.


The Two Most Important Questions

Brandon Busteed says how people answer is Gallup’s best predictor that they’ll have great jobs and great lives.

Selingo’s Recent Writings

Jeff Selingo is a regular contributor to “Grade Point,” The Washington Post‘s higher education news blog.

Latest ACT Data

The College Choice Report tracks test-takers during their next two years to see if their enrollment preferences match their actions.


Lawlor Recommends

Today’s higher education marketplace conditions are a catalyst for opportunity—if campus communities and higher education leadership are not only thinking in a manner that is edupreneurial, but also engaging in a meaningful process of discernment and then acting on that thinking. In other words, deciding to do. Aristotle said, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” Now is the time to have the courage to do.

Keep an eye out for our upcoming summer issue of The Lawlor Review, which will feature detailed accounts of all of the Summer Seminar 2015 presentations. Our annual highlights video is also coming soon. And don’t forget to mark your calendar for Summer Seminar 2016, which will be held June 16-17 in Minneapolis.

Meanwhile, you can help us continue the conversation about edupreneurial thinking and behavior by registering to attend our Lunch with Lawlor event in San Diego on October 2. We are hosting a presentation by Amy Wilkinson, author of The Creator’s Code, in which she unlocks the six essential skills for entrepreneurial success that have proven effective in a variety of endeavors and industries.