We Have a Problem Called Funding

As I eluded to a short ten days ago, we have three critical problems in education today. They include funding sources, increased competition with other nations, and an outdated approach to teaching. Let's pull apart the challenge of funding today.

Just a quick scan of media in education over the past two or three years would demonstrate that we are in a funding crisis in education. From public, state universities - which have become increasingly tuition dependent - to private colleges and independent schools, we are seeing the challenge of diminishing sources of income for operations, let alone professional development or innovation. After the global economic crisis, most schools and colleges found themselves seeking new revenue sources and potential audiences. Where does that search lead them? Or, better yet, in the quest for new or improved funding sources, what potential solutions are we seeing in the landscape of schools and colleges? here are a few that we are observing in our work across the country.

1) Online Learning as a Retention Tool - We are seeking a renewed interest in online learning as not only a tool for increasing new enrollment, but a viable tool for retention. When college students cannot access the classes they need in four or five years to graduate, their persistence drops. Online education provides an avenue not only for revenue, but access to high demand classes in order to graduate. Just last week the University of Hawaii system launched a major campaign called "15 to Finish", calling current students to maintain at least 15 credit hours per semester to finish the school in four years. Online learning is a component of the advising process.

2) Online Learning as a Market Tool - Independent schools are getting in the mix as finally seeing online learning as a viable tool for opening up new markets for students, as well as adding a lower cost entry into their product line. Some are ahead of the curve, such as the Online School for Girls by the National Coalition for Girls Schools, working as an association cohort to bring online learning to the masses.

3) Optimization is Reaching the Tipping Point - After cutting budgets in travel, professional development, and salary increases, most schools have maxed out their ability to optimize the expense side of the ledger. The next step is cutting core programs and services if they don't see new sources of funding.

4) Increase Use of Fixed Assets - Rather than seeing their campus sit idly through evening, weekend, or summer hours, we are seeing an increase in how to use fixed assets more efficiently. Currently we are working on two research projects than include a refocused effort on summer programs as both revenue and recruitment tools.

If this sounds like a lot of bad news, it is, but there may be a silver lining. Most great advances and innovations in industry result from an urgent need to improve performance or respond to changing external circumstances. In this new era of finance, I think we all need to be mindful that the funding solutions that emerge from this might be important game changers for education in the future. We are indeed at a pivot or inflection point in the world of education. The future will be determined by how we respond to it.

Speaking at AISAP

I am heading down to San Diego today to keynote at the Association of Independent Schools Admission Professionals Annual Conference. The conference is hosted this year by the consortium of independent schools in San Diego and is located at La Jolla Country Day School. I will post a few tweets during the day and also post the two files from our talk on our Twitter feed.

Houston, We Have a Problem

Most of us remember that famous line during a strategic mishap with a NASA mission. Historic, for sure. The quote crystalizes in most minds the failure of NASA at a critical point in America's history.

America, we have a problem today. This problem is an education problem. Our problem is our competitive nature in the world of changing workforce preparation and workforce education. And, I would argue that the problem is a three tiered problem. Here they are:

1) We have a funding problem. Our model of education is too expensive to deliver to the masses who either want or need it.

2) We have a competitive problem. Our role as a world leader in education is declining as other nations figure out their education solutions. As America has slipped, others have taken our place.

3) We have a skills problem. As the world of work and workforce preparation has changed, our model of education and the skills required to be successful have not. Most schools are trying to alter their curriculum to reflect 21st Century skills as a result.

We have an education crisis in our nation today. Most indicators have pointed to this for awhile, so it is not really "new" news. Over the next week or so, we will examine some of these trends and reflect on each of them here in our blog. Feel free to participate in the conversation and offer a thought or two along the way.

A Proliferation of Choice

I have been continuing my thinking on the impact of the changing delivery platforms on our education industry. Consider the choices that students are increasingly going to possess. The future student may attend classes online, or hybrid, or low residence, or old school (in class or in residence) - or all of the above. What will this proliferation of choice have on the future of the education industry?

If we take a moment to learn from other industries, my guess is that there are a few key things that will occur as a result. Here is my guess for where the proliferation of choice in education will take us in the future.

Increased Access - More students than ever will have access to private education due to the increased flexibility that it provides and the various cost structures and price points provided to the market. This might be a very good thing for the overall education industry.

Increased Stratification - As it education were not already very segmented, I would expect to see an increasingly stratified set of offerings. I don't see the vaunted, highly credentialed residential liberal arts college or highly selective and resourced independent school going by the wayside to the changing marketplace. Instead, I believe that those offerings will remain elite, expensive, and the perceived gold standard of education. But the real growth will come and is already coming in the diversified new offerings in hybrid and online education.

A Shifting Marketing Model - I really think we are seeing an inflection point at work here. While education has historically been a product-centric model of marketing (we build what we want and charge what we like for it), the greatest shift will be to a market-centric model of education. Entrepreneurial schools and colleges will continue to gain a competitive advantage by being disciplined by following the market demand on education.

What does this proliferation of choice really mean to education? More access. More stratification. And a changing marketing model. And, I think the train has already left the station.

The Impact of Mobile Tech on Educational Delivery

I recently read an article on the future of urban planning. The author predicted that we would soon be in a world where downtown high rise office buildings would be vacant as the impact of mobile computing, virtual work teams, and decreasing costs of overhead took their toll on urban development and corporate management. Of course, it got me thinking about the education industry and the continuing role of technology in the future.

I am not sure I would go as far as the author in the article I read. While I believe that we are rapidly approaching a new normal in the delivery, consumption, and pricing of education, I tend to see the influx of technology as providing just one more really good set of options to the consumer. If we look to other industries, such as retail or corporate work teams, we are not seeing physical structures such as shopping centers and office buildings sitting vacant. The American consumer still desires an experience in their consumer activity. Online shopping did not replace Saturday afternoon at the mall. However, when price and convenience are mixed into the equation as new options, it provides the consumer greater flexibility in getting what they want.

The future of education will largely be predicated on consumer choice - where lower cost and higher flexibility become a prevailing option for many consumers - and yet where bricks and mortal "experiences" are equally as important in the mix, but not always the primary option. We know that younger consumers are gravitating to a hybrid model of consumption: online, in residence, and low residence, all with different pricing models. The real pressure will be on institutions not to simply allow, but embrace, this multi-faceted consumer. Transfer policies will need to more audience friendly and degrees from multiple institutions working together for the benefit of the consumer will be the expectation.

Sounds like education is growing up.

The End of Financial Aid Leveraging?

By Gary Daynes, Senior Strategy Consultant

Nearly every institution of higher education in the US leverages financial aid. That is, we all give different amounts of aid to different students to encourage them to attend our institutions. The practical impact for students is that classrooms, like airplanes, hold customers who are paying radically different amounts for the same seat. The result for campuses, at least in theory, is that the institution realizes as much revenue as possible while still filling its class with qualified students.

There is solid research in behavioral economics, and plenty of lived experience to suggest that financial aid leveraging has worked in the past. But my sense is that it may not work well into the future. Here is why.

Our ability to leverage financial aid depends on a set of beliefs among students and their parents:

- general assumption that higher education is a good value and a specific belief that the particular institution where a student will enroll is worth the cost,

- a willingness to pay money (or to borrow money) to make up the difference between aid and cost of attendance,

- a willingness to overlook the fact that each student pays a different amount for the same education, a difference based largely on the student's prior academic performance (and slightly on their actual need).

The institution has to have a different set of beliefs:

- that students will come even if pricing is unclear,

- that the particular model of financial aid leveraging is both financially and morally defensible,

-that the model of leveraging maintains or improves the overall quality of students at the campus,

-that the class of interested students will be academically and financially varied enough so that students who pay a lot are numerous enough to subsidize those who pay little.

It is fair to say that every one of the assumptions above is under question right now. One need only consider the move of major research universities into online learning, the uproar about student loans, the explosion of parent appeals of financial aid packages, the outrageous financial aid packages given to top academic students (who, of course, usually come from families with greater means to pay for higher education), and the changing demographics of new college-going students--to recognize that the landscape that once supported leveraging is radically changed.

Schools have two options to respond--they can stay the course, hoping that while the national mood undermines the assumptions behind financial aid leveraging their own markets will be willing to go along. Or they can move, as a first step, towards clarity in pricing while they figure out exactly what their education is worth to the families who want to buy it.

Option two demands something more than changing tuition, particularly for small institutions. It demands that we re-calibrate where we stand in the market and who are the students who are most likely to succeed at the college. Gone are the days when small colleges could get by on a pitch about small class sizes and an academic program that looks a lot like that offered at big universities.

Bringing Culture to the Curb

Last month I had the unique opportunity to speak at the EdSocial Media Summit in San Francisco. The event was thankfully well-sponsored by EdSocial Media and brought together seven top thought leaders in the area of social media. All of the speakers were extremely well-versed in the tools and application of social media for the education industry. I was as much of a student as a teacher on that day.

I did take a different approach in my talk, however. I am not a social media guru, but instead intrigued only by the power and application of it. Specifically, I see the set of social media tools as part of an expanding universe of relevant applications that allow us greater engagement with our school and college fans. They allow us to connect with our stakeholders in ways that have never been done before.

One of the greatest marketing communication challenges I see with colleges and schools is that they struggle conveying culture. Words and print media often fail to capture the unique culture of the campus community. But, the new confluence of viral video and talented, performing-oriented, tech-savvy students have created a new way to communicate to overcome this issue. In my short talk, I highlight three great case studies of viral video. They each are sure to get attention, but also communicate something more important along the way. Take a look at the YouTube link below and enjoy.


A View From The Summit

I've just returned from serving as the dean of faculty and presenter at the Strategic Enrollment Management Summit. The first of its kind event was co-sponsored by Independent Schools of Northern New England and Association of Independent Schools Admission Professionals. Held in Portland, Maine, the summit was widely attended by heads of school, chief financial officers, advancement heads, enrollment management, and marketing professionals.

The conference and main sessions were planned and organized by members of the faculty as modules, so the summit really engendered some excellent current thinking from leaders in our industry. Hot discussion topics included using data effectively for effective decision-making, pricing and financial aid optimization, and branding and marketing communications. It's always good to see some of the same issues and strategic questions affirmed by colleagues, and the conference gave some time to wrestle with these issues as a team.

Special thanks to Janice Crampton at AISAP and Doug and Lori Cummings for putting on an incredible event. And, special kudos go to Andrew Menke at New Hampton, Georgie Mitchell at Buckingham, Browne, and Nichols, and Aline Rossiter at Chade for their fine leadership and session content. We are going to bet that this event will be an amazing repeat sometime soon.

Why All the Confusion with Social Media?

I have been prepping these past few weeks for an onslought of speaking enagagements for different organizations. I am also coming fresh off the recent EdSocial Media Summit in San Francisco, an excellent gathering of some the best minds and industry best practices in social media.  Each of these experiences has me a bit perplexed about the confusion in the industry about the use of social media.  I hear from so many attendees and clients that they are "confused" with social media, or just don't know how to get started.  

Here's the deal about social media from my vantage point.  We have never had so many intuitive, audience-friendly, engaging, inexpensive tools available to engage our audiences before in this industry.  My hot words are underlined here for a point. 

Intuitive - Come on.  Social media is really easy to use.  If you can run an app on your iPhone, you can run a social media site.  

Audience-Friendly - This is where our audience is.  On social media.  We don't need to work so hard to find them if we become one with them.

Engaging - Social media allows organizations to stop promotion and start engagement.  Our audiences are tired and skeptical about promotion.

Inexpensive - Social media is cheap.  Really cheap compared to the print and advertising alternative.

Now, before we elect social media as the panacea to marketing, let's be clear about a few important marketing issues.  We tend to confuse activity with meaning.  Just because we can easily publish any photo or video we want, that does not mean we should.  Social media is still like any other marketing communications tool in that it needs to be consistent, integrated, and have effective messages.  Again, I've underlined my hot words for a point.  

Consistent - No matter what tools your school uses, let's make sure that you are being consistent in all media the messages that you want to convey.  Volvo is not just about "safety" in some materials and not in others.

Integrated - All marketing communication strategies need to be integrated so that the tools in a system work in concert.

Effective - What are you really trying to communicate?  Make sure that the key message is crystal clear.  "What" is conveyed in a viral video should be the same message in a website or print media.  It is the "how" that message is conveyed that is different.

It's pretty simple.  Social media offers a great new set of tools that we all should embrace.  And, it also opens up many challenges for the organization that does not have clear or consistent messaging.  In fact, adding social media to an already faltering marketing organization will likely accentuate the negative.  Translation:  If you don't have your act together, social media will demonstrate that for all to see.

If we can look at these tools for what they really are - a new set of tools that allow us much more freedom and flexibility - and use the same common sense that we should be practicing anyway - I think we are going to be just fine.


How Pricing Still Looms Large

Pricing for independent schools and colleges is a strategic issue.  We place pricing and the lack of access at the top of the list of strategic issues facing independent education. While have discussed this topic at conferences, in white papers, and through webinars, our sense is that this issue is actually accelerating and not solutions are not being offered at a rapid enough pace.  
There are three main points about pricing for independent schools that we want to make:
  1. Independent schools are going to hit a wall when it comes to price, if they have not already.
  2. This issue is looming large in the near future.
  3. And, we place this is the most pressing issue facing independent schools today.
What is our rationale to push this topic?  Let's take a look at several important points.

The Toughest Marketing Trick in the Book

The hardest marketing trick to pull off is to increase value without increasing price. If you work at an independent school, you know the ongoing challenge with the value proposition. Parents pay more and more each year, expecting to see value increase as time wears on. The most common competitor for students as the public schools ‐‐ which are free ‐‐ and their value is obvious to most consumers.

The simple fact is this: we don't see independent schools using creative or market‐driven strategies to increase value. In order for value to increase ‐‐ price inevitably seems to increase. In fact, with most of our independent schools, the first tactic they turn to when increasing value is an increase in price. This is a dead‐end series of events, eventually pricing schools out of the marketplace.
Read More

The Future of Independent Education

Where Are We Going?

There is no question that we are in unchartered territory when it comes to the changing face of independent education.  Most experts agree that the classroom of the future, as well as those who teach in it and those who lead it, will need to look different in the future.  The challege is simple and yet difficult.  How do we make important institutional decisions in the face of such dramatic change?

Our next two ISA Virtual sessions will focus on the changing face of education and the dramatic impact it is having on institutional decisions.  We will bring the best research and our industry best practices view to bear on providing a strategic glimpse into the future.  Join us for one or both of the following:
  1. The Next Generation of Educational Leadership - Friday, May 4, 10 AM Pacific
    What are the attributes of the next generation of educational leadership in America?  With all of the fast-moving changes in our industry, what are the implications for college presidents, heads of school, board members and governance systems, and executive team members?  This session will focus on what our research and experience tell us about the next generation of educational leadership.

  2. The Future of Independent Education -  Friday, May 18, 10 AM Pacific
    This session is intentionally designed to examine and consider the future trends in education.  What do external trends and forces tell us about the future of education?  We will consider key industry dilemmas such as the following:  Where will online education be moving in the future?  What will be the prevailing educational philosophy?  Where is pricing moving and where does my school fit in? What is the role of education in the future? Join us for an insightful look at the external forces that are rapidly shaping education. 

If you enjoy strategically thinking about the future, you will enjoy and be enlightened by each of these sessions.  Bring a team of administrators, executives, and board members to the virtual session.  We hope you can join us.  Register now for either or both session here.

The Right Questions About Cutting Tuition

Mount Holyoke announced recently that it would not raise tuition for the 2012-2013 academic year. The announcement drew the typical coverage--some meandering thoughts about college cost and boilerplate assurances from the institution itself that it is dedicated to responding to rising college costs and making its brand of education accessible to a broader public.

That is all well and good, but if we are going to take the cost of college seriously, then the institutions who freeze or cut tuition and the people who write about them need to get much more serious about explaining the contexts and purposes of their decisions (as do the people who raise tuition, but that is for another post).

At the very least, any reporter covering the announcement of a tuition freeze or cut should ask the following:
  • Is the reduction in tuition costs accompanied by reductions in institutional aid?
  • Is it accompanied by changes in enrollment goals, or put another way, are you making up the difference by enrolling more students?
  • How do you expect the reduction of tuition to effect the school's revenue in the coming year?
  • Are you reducing expenditures in the coming year?  If so, which ones?  What are you doing with faculty and staff salaries?
  • Do you really believe that a reduction in tuition makes your school accessible to students who would not otherwise be able to afford it?  What evidence do you have?
  • What steps are you taking to ensure that the quality of the education you provide improves?
  • Why cut tuition instead of doing other things to reduce costs to students--i.e. speeding up time to graduation, reducing room and board costs, enrolling more transfer students from community colleges, increasing funding for students to work on campus?
Absent answers to these questions, I can't help but think that a tuition freeze or cut is more about publicity than improving access, reducing cost, and ensuring an excellent education to all students.

Gary Daynes, Collaborating Consultant 

Strategic Planning or Strategic Thinking?

Is there a difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking?  One is clearly a process - the other is a state of mind.  How do they intersect in this brave new world and what does that look like?

We all know that our world is changing rapidly.  And, we also know that this change dicates a more responsive organization in the future.  So, what does that mean for the typical five year strategic plan?    Will schools and colleges continue to build mid-term plans and long-term initiatives?  If not, what will planning look like?

Join us on Friday, April 27th at 10 AM Pacific / 1 PM Eastern for an ISA Virtual session on Strategic Thinking vs Strategic Planning.  We'll detail what we believe the future of healthy planning looks like from a truly generative and strategic mindset.  We'll discuss what it takes to think strategically and then turn that into a healthy and nimble process.

Participants can register online at our ISA Virtual page.  Be sure to download the ISA Virtual Fact Sheet for a review of curriculum. 

Direction Determines Strategy


Many years ago, I was sitting for an interview for a chief enrollment officer position at a small, regional liberal arts college.  During the most important conversation near the end of my three day visit - with the chair of the board of trustees and the president of the College - I was posed with the challenge.  The board chair shared it something like this:

"Ian, it boils down to three challenges we need you to accomplish.  The College needs more students, better students, and less expensive students."  

I said pick one, maybe two, of the challenges to focus on.  I said that these goals might be potentially in conflict. I said that these challenges might not represent realistic goals, but instead the outcomes of a clear direction.  I also said no thanks.

I share this conversation as it is largely emblematic of the conversations happening across the country.  Most schools and colleges seem to think that the enrollment strategy should drive the direction of the institution.  And, this just is not so.  The strategic direction and how an organization chooses to position itself in the landscape of other entries in the marketplace actually dictates the strategy of enrollment, recruitment, and financial optimization.  

Does your school or college have a clear strategic direction?  And, is that strategic direction clear and cogent enough to provide a prescription for an enrollment management philosophy?  And, if not, what is missing in order to bring that about?  Some questions to think about.

Changing the Conversation: Playing Catch Up

Traveling throughout the nation, speaking at conferences, conducting research, and consulting with clients provides a very interesting backdrop to observe trends.  Our Ten Trends series was birthed from this sort of cultural observation.  Today, though, I want to make note of another trend that I am seeing around the nation.  

In the rush to become more globally competitive, relevant to today, and sustainable in our marketplace context, it seems that most American schools and colleges are battling hard in the unfortunate game of "playing catch up."  Whether it be technology, classroom teaching approaches, or distribution and pricing models, most of the conversation appears to be about bringing schools or colleges up to speed to a new normal in education.  The game seems to be scored by which school or college can be the first to bring about internal change in order to be the school they should be today.  
I recognize the prevailing model for many of the things we have built our educational system on is over 50 years old.  Surely this means that we need to remove old thinking and replace it with new, more innovative thinking.  But, in the process, I think we are missing the point.  Is our goal to "catch up" to a changing time, or is to be the lead forces in the world of educational revitalization?  America has always been a pioneering force in various industries.  Are we simply trying to bring our programs up to par or return to a global leadership role in education?

It seems to me that we need to change the conversation.  We need to stop being reactive to where the world has moved and proactive to where the world is going.  We need to think about how to reengineer our programs in a way that will rightfully return our independent schools and colleges into case studies for innovation.  Most importantly, we need to stop playing catch up.

ISA Virtual - Crafting Key Messages

How do you build an effective messaging program based upon distinctiveness, positioning, and important consumer attributes.  Join us on Friday, April 13 at 10 AM Pacific / 1 PM Eastern for the fifth in our ISA Virtual series for a session on "Crafting Key Messages to Drive Promotional Objectives".  Our session will focus on key exercises to build messaging concepts from core institutional strengths as they overlap with the competitive marketplace.
Who should attend?  Any college, university, school, or non-profit officer playing a lead role in shaping the communication their organization. This webinar will provide extraordinary opportunity for participants to learn how to build their communication program through key messages, how to arrive at key messages, and best practices in the implementation of a messaging program.
To learn more or to register, visit our ISA Virtual page, download the ISA Virtual Fact Sheet, and make sure you register no later than 5 PM Pacific on Thursday, April 12.

Strategic Enrollment Management Summit

Meeting or exceeding enrollment goals continues to require more effort - and that is likely not to change in the coming years.  Achieving enrollment success is the responsibility of an entire community.  And, it requires a holistic, integrated, and systematic model to achieve that success.  

Independent Schools of Northern New England
and the Association of Independent Schools Admission Professionals have teamed up this spring to bring heads of school and enrollment officers together for a one-of-a-kind event.  Together, they will be hosting the Strategic Enrollment Management Summit in Portland, Maine on May 8th and 9th, bringing together some of the nation's best practitioners in the area of enrollment management.  I will be serving as the dean of faculty and facilitating the sessions, joined by a team of experts.  Together, we will be covering the spectrum of enrollment management issues from a soup to nuts, best practices approach.

To learn more about the conference, feel free to visit the conference page and register.  Hope to see you there.  Our sense is that this will be a landmark event that will shape your professional development.

Follow the edSocial Media Summit on 4.4

I am on my way down to the edSocial Media Summit in San Francisco today.  A gathering of six other social media experts will join me to share some of the freshest, most germane appications and perspectives on the use of social media in the education setting.  We will meet at the Fort Mason Center Theatre (above) in a TED style format of speaking, presentations, and questions.  

I will be tweeting some of the best ideas I learn from the conference.  Also, edSocial Media will also be filming the presentations and I will make certain to share our presentation with our clients, colleagues, and friends here.  For frequent updates to the conference, be sure to follow ISA on Twitter, where I will post observations, video, and phtotos.

Should a College Presidency be a 24/7 Job?

By Gary Daynes | Senior Strategy Consultant

Westminster just completed a search, and hired Dr. Brian Levin-Stankevich as its 17th president.  The four finalists varied widely in their backgrounds, their passions, and their visions for the college.  But they shared one thing--they all said or intimated that being a college president is a “24/7” job.

Now if 24/7 job is simply shorthand for saying “being a college president takes a lot of time and I understand that” then there is no need to wonder about it.  But my sense from this search, and from discussions with other presidents and academic leaders, is that the statement means something more.  It means that the president has almost no life outside of the life of the college--that he or she is essentially owned by the school.

The ownership of the President (and other academic leaders) by the institution may not be a bad thing.  But it should at least cause the school to ask some questions about its leadership style and assumptions about the role of the college in society.  Here are a few key ones:

  • Have the assumptions and structures of leadership kept up with the literature on leadership?  The 24/7 leader grows out of two widely held but dubious models of leadership.  The first, dating from the early 1900s, suggests that the corporation should provide all shape to the lives of its employees--housing, food, work, recreation, etc.  The second, dating from the 1980s, assumes that the CEO has to be the face of the corporation, and lead through charisma.  Both models have been challenged outside of academe, but remain within.
  • Does the President have a clearly defined role? Show up at any late-night or weekend event on campus and you will find not one but several leaders--the President, the Provost, the VP for Advancement, the Dean of Students--plus assorted faculty and staff.  If they are there because they are interested, wonderful.  If they are there out of obligation, then one must ask why?  What is it about the presence of many leaders that makes an event more successful?  Or is their presence evidence that leaders haven’t determined what their strengths, responsibilities, and roles are? Must the President attend nearly every event on campus?
  • Is the President’s calendar planned or reactive? I know from experience that an open week on Monday morning gets filled past capacity by Tuesday lunch.  While it is true that stuff happens that must be responded to, it is also true that the President, more than most other people on campus, has limited control over her/his calendar. And much of the time on that calendar is filled with “dignitary work”--shaking hands, greeting visitors, meeting with donors, attending lunches and dinners.  Again, this is essential work, but much of it could be done by others, with greater long-term payoff for the college and for other leaders, whose experience grows and whose own special skills come into play.
  • Is the campus too busy?  Westminster, like many colleges and universities, offers several events, lectures, plays, and sporting events each night.  In addition to those things, the leadership has other events to participate in that aren’t open to the campus.  But these events, like formal academic programs, need a mission and purpose check.  Are the events we host matched with the institution’s mission?  And if so, do they advance that mission?  Busyness often masks uncertainty about the mission and appeal of an institution.  If you aren’t sure where you stand in the market, or what your students need and desire, then you try to have a bit of everything for everyone.
  • How serious is your campus about reflection and renewal? We know from the literature on learning and on contemplation that growth and well-being emerge from regular acts of contemplation, reflection, and renewal.  If the president is owned by the institution, and moments of reflection and renewal are haphazard (15 minutes here and there, a last-minute weekend escape) then it is evidence that the campus is not as serious about reflection and renewal as it ought to be.  (Please note that I do not consider planning and other sorts of “retreats” to be reflective or renewing.  They are business, and serve more to summarize work that is already going on and spur more work than they are to provide a space for reflection.Once upon a time most presidents (and other senior leaders) taught a class on campus--today most don’t.  But preparing to teach is education’s native contemplative practice. If it is absent, then it may be that contemplation is gone as well.
  • Is the college the most important thing in the world? The answer has to be no. No job ought to be more important than family, than citizenship, than god, than happiness. So if a job, even one as important and useful as college president, owns a person, then it is a sign that the job needs to be rethought, if only to bring it into alignment with what humans know about the relative importance of things.

Gary Daynes | Senior Strategy Consultant

Vision Post Two: Short-Term vs. Long-Term Strategic Planning

[ I believe vision is an all important aspect of strategy and, without an inspiring vision, organizations generally do not have a strong and relevant focus.  This is the second in a three part series on vision. ]

I think it is pretty clear:  Apple has weathered their economic storm.  Once near extinction, Steve Jobs ressurected Apple with the iPod in 2000 and they are now the most valuable company in the world.  Sure, they have been innovative and made some great decisions along the way.  But, what is even more important is the laser-like focus they consistently gave to their vision over the past 12 years.  That vision:  to constantly be the company in the tech world that challenged the status quo.  Think of it - Apple's successful new devices were always first to market. Before the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and all of their features, these products did not exist in the marketplace.  They never improved an existing device - they always looked anew at how to make a devide that did not exist.  It has been their long-term commitment to a vision - not the short-term commitment to a plan - that has propelled them during very challenging times, including two economic downturns in the past 12 years.

We live in rapidly changing times.  Education, as well as many other mature industries, are experiencing an inflection point, where traditional delivery and pricing models are clearly undergoing change.  Is it possible to even consider writing the traditional five year strategic plan when so much change in that time frame?

I think vision is so central to an organization for many reasons.  Among those reasons is the ability to keep an organization on a long-term strategic trajectory.  In our view, the traditional five year strategic plan is only an effective approach to planning if two preconditions exist:

  1. The organization follows a long-term vision that is relevant and not predicated on changing leadership or external conditions;

  2. The organization annually reviews the efficacy of the five year strategic plan and makes strategic adjustments as necessary.

 From our perspective, a long-term vision is what keeps an organization gaining momentum toward their strategic future, regardless of changing micro conditions or leadership.  A shorter-term strategic plan is key for institutional movement along more responsive paths to change.  

Does your organization have a long-term vision?  Something that is larger than the sum of its parts?  Inspiring and relevant?  In our view, that is the important focus of any long-term strategic direction.