Summer Seminar Recap: Establishing Value During a Time of Disruption

For nearly 20 years, The Lawlor Group has been hosting symposia, events, and workshops designed to provide market intelligence to education leaders around the country—and for nine years we’ve co-hosted Summer Seminar, providing higher education senior leadership with a unique opportunity to tap the knowledge and insights of presenters from both inside and outside of the industry. This year’s theme, “Establishing Value During a Time of Disruption,” gave those who gathered in Minneapolis last week an intense look at circumstances in the higher education marketplace that are making change a necessity. (Some audience reactions to the presentations are curated on Storify.) The presentations complemented each other on several topics to relate both a high-level view of the market landscape and a ground-level view of how colleges and universities are responding to it.

Visualizing the Future
Michelle R. Weise, a senior research fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute, discussed “What Disruptive Innovation Means for the Future of Higher Education.” She stated that the higher education industry is already being disrupted by entrants (that is, online degree providers) who are using the right technology and the right business model to serve students that the incumbent traditional colleges had not been reaching. By definition of the theory (one of the necessary conditions for disruptive innovation is “asymmetric motivation”), the incumbents are not threatened by the entrants—at first. But Weise showed that how the theory plays out can be helpful in predicting the future and in planning ways to deal with it.

Jim Griesemer, in his role as director of the strategic issues program, demonstrated how the University of Denver is indeed planning for change at the most fundamental level. Like Weise, he viewed competency-based education as a disruptor because it assesses student learning rather than credit hours, revises the role of the professor, changes the industrial model to one of mass customization, and changes the pricing model. In his presentation, “Unsettling Times: Higher Education in an Era of Change,” he also noted nine other strategic issues that his university is actively planning around.

Optimizing Operations
Eva Bogaty, a senior analyst on the higher education team at Moody’s, talked about “The Shifting Landscape of U.S. Higher Education” and what it means for the bottom line of colleges’ and universities’ financial balance sheets. Moody’s outlook for the higher education industry over the next 12 to 18 months is negative due to, among other things, slowly growing revenue that is being eclipsed by pressures to increase expenses. Bogaty said there will need to be some fundamental changes in the cost structure of colleges, but that it involves tough decisions the industry does not seem ready to make.

Steve Bahls, president of Augustana College (Rock Island, Illinois), explained how his institution goes about making such tough decisions. His presentation, “Shared Governance in Time of Change: A Practical Guide for Universities and Colleges” (also the title of his book published in April by the Association of Governing Boards), focused on how to bring together administrators, trustees, and faculty for open communication that aligns priorities around the value proposition and creates a culture of shared responsibility in decisions about the operation of the college.

Engaging Students
Katie Elfering, a consumer strategist at Iconoculture, took the audience “Inside the Minds of Today’s Students” to show what motivates the generation coming up after the Millennials (who are now ages 19 to 36): the 18 and under Gen We. They feel the power of one person to do things. They have a sense of their economic boundaries and are more practical about money. And they are tech-intuitive and expect personal, customized, boundary-less access.

Rey Junco, a professor at Iowa State University and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, showed what colleges and universities are doing via social media to reach, engage, and support today’s students. In “Engaging Students Through Social Media: Evidence-Based Practices,” he shared examples of “social media interventions” that have promoted informal learning to reach desired outcomes.

Focusing on Outcomes
Brandon Busteed, the executive director of Gallup Education, shared how “It’s the Educonomy, Stupid!” when it comes to what colleges and universities should be preparing their graduates for. He said that since technology has made knowledge so ubiquitous, students can’t compete on what they know anymore—instead it has to be on what they’ve done and their real-world skills. Yet neither colleges nor graduates have been assessed very effectively on the basis of outcomes. So he showed how the new Gallup-Purdue Index is linking the educational experiences of college students with their workplace engagement and well-being as graduates.

Andy Chan, vice president for personal and career development at Wake Forest University, showed how his institution is prioritizing such outcomes in his presentation, “Mission-Critical Career Development.” He decided that “Career Services must die” and built an office designed to help students develop clarity of direction, job search and professional competencies, personal and professional connections, and confidence to navigate the future. The university is now able to center its value proposition around both a positive post-graduation outcome and employability for life.

Lawlor Recommends

Change is indeed becoming a necessity as higher education administrators strive to respond to a marketplace demanding evidence of a compelling, relevant value proposition. But as always, The Lawlor Group is committed to providing forums for discussing intelligent solutions for higher education and will continue to offer informed market intelligence and relevant marketing solutions through a variety of opportunities: the Focus, The Lawlor Review, our annual Trends publication and presentations, and face-to-face gatherings such as Lawlor Forum and Lunch with Lawlor. And mark your calendar now for June 11-12, 2015, when The Lawlor Group will present our continuation of the Summer Seminar tradition as sole host.


In the News

Time described “How Student Loan Debt Hurts Your Health,” pointing to a study that “linked debt to high blood pressure as well as poor self-reported mental and general health.”


Did You Know?

When asked what a university should look like 15 years into the future, 71% of college students think career-oriented skills, not just subject matter, will be taught.

Source: Laureate