Kudos to Florida Atlantic U for New, Innovative, and Simple Advising Strategy

b-keep-it-simple-stupidYesterday’s Inside Higher Ed highlighted a new, innovative advising initiative at Florida Atlantic University. What stood out to me was not that the initiative was new or innovative- I read about new and innovative initiatives on a daily basis. What stood out to me was that the initiative was down right simple. Now there’s something novel! It’s rare to read about colleges employing new, innovative, and SIMPLE strategies.

“Since January, two parking garages on the university’s Boca Raton campus have doubled as academic advising offices for commuter students, whose schedules had not previously allowed them to use campus advising services regularly.”

Academic advisors at Florida Atlantic, from the hours of 5pm-7pm, took over the parking garage security huts, and only four months later….

“had met with more than 500 students in the parking garages. Most of the students hadn’t been seeing anyone for academic advising. They offered those students a variety of services including degree audits, projecting when courses will be offered in future semesters and scheduling. They also helped students set up appointments with other departments such as financial aid, admissions and career services.”

So, kudos to Florida Atlantic for implementing, with great success, something new, innovative, and above all else, SIMPLE!

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Book Rec: “University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education” by Jennifer Washburn

untitledJennifer Washburn does a fantastic job of chronically the growing role of commercial interests in America’s public higher education system, especially in regards to technology transfer. Washburn, a freelance journalist, employs a journalistic/expose’ style to tell a compelling story about the ethical dilemmas inherent in a university research culture that is publicly funded but increasingly tied to the demands of profit-driven corporations- calling the trend the “single greatest threat to the future of higher education.”

She laments:

When researchers at the University of Utah discovered an important human gene responsible for hereditary breast cancer, for example, they didn’t make it freely available to other scientists, even though we- the U.S. taxpayers- paid $4.6 million to finance the research. They raced to patent it and gave the monopoly rights to Myriad Genetics, Inc., a start-up company founded by a University of Utah professor, which proceeded to hoard the gene and restrict other scientists from using it.”

Although Washburn focuses mostly on the growing incursion of corporate intrests into the research function of higher education, she also makes mention of the harm such incursions cause other (less-lucrative) areas of the university, stating:

“….these trends have put a squeeze on less commercially oriented fields such as the humanities and social sciences, which at many schools are being neglected or downsized.”

Not mentioned by Washburn, but equally troubling to me as a higher educataion policy wonk, is the increasingly narrow focus upon job training/rote skills acquisition by universities in an effort to be more responsive to industry needs. Thirty to fifty years ago industry trained workers, higher education educated them. The move from educating well-rounded citizens who could think, write, and synthesize to training workers for narrow occupational fields represents another major cost-savings to industry. No longer does industry need to train new hires and it routinely calls upon higher education to produce more graduates. The production of more graduates, beyond industry need, would certainly bode well for businesses who could then justify lower starting salaries.

Lest someone accuse me of not advocating for some focus upon employability, I would like to state that I do think universities should ensure that their graduates are employable upon graduation. I just often worry about the frenetic drive from a balanced approach to a narrow focus.

All in all, Washburn’s book begs us to pause and think about the future of a publicly funded higher education system that is increasingly serving the narrow needs of industry, in all aspects.


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Different Strokes: Rethinking the Way We Segment Students


Different strokes for different folks, or so the saying goes….

A recent report by The Parthenon Group  (a consulting group) asserts that we, in higher education, do a rather poor job of segmenting students into meaningful groups for purposes of recruiting, curriculum development and student services.

And I wholeheartedly agree.

The report points out that:

“the traditional process of ‘segmenting’ the student market by demographics- traditional vs. non-traditional students- is no longer sufficient in providing college leaders with the strategic understanding they need.”

They propose a more nuanced approach to sorting students based not upon student demographic data (age, race, parental education level, etc.) but instead upon students’ motivations for seeking postsecondary education.

Based upon a national survey of 3,200 college students/prospective college students, Parthenon Group identifies six major student segments:


You can read more about the six student segments by looking at the full report, entitled “The Differentiated University,” here.

Understanding the motivations of prospective students would allow us to more strategically tailor recruiting campaigns. Furthermore, understanding why students are seeking a postsecondary education would allow us to better serve the students we already have.

Parthenon anticipates producing a follow-up report which will contain steps colleges can take to adopt a more focused strategy for student segmenting.

I look forward to reading Part II.

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Kudos to Software PhD

CaptureI love Amazon and utilize Yelp on a regular basis when I travel. I also check Angie’s List before purchasing any service (doctors, dentists, plumbers, etc.). Reading reviews and sorting products/restaurants/services based on average ratings allows me to be a savvy consumer.

Kudos to Mark A. Baker, associate registrar at Whitworth University, in Spokane, WA. for designing Software PhD, a web-based tool which allows educators to sift through reviews of various educational software.

I have had my share of software decisions to make in my many jobs in higher education. It’s a dizzing landmine littered with glowing vendor proclamations and a painstaking venture which requires enormous amounts of time contacting colleagues at other institutions in an effort to find out which software they are currently using. Software PhD holds a lot of promise for making this crucial (and oftern underestimated) job much, much easier.

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Some Suggested New Year’s Resolutions for Higher Education (2014)

2011-year-resolution-400x400We are now 2 days into 2014. Many campuses across the nation are closed this entire week but on Monday most will return with vim and vigor, ready to face 2014 head on.  As we embark upon another year, I (as I did last year) have a few ideas for some New Year’s resolutions for higher education.

1)      What does a degree mean?

When someone graduates from a college or university what should we as a society expect them to know and be able to do, at a minimum (regardless of major)? There is a wide diversity of opinion on this matter, with proponents of some type of national standard contending such measures are needed to guard against diploma mills and opponents contending that a one-size-fits-all approach would result in greatly oversimplifying learning. I agree with both sentiments. So I propose that in 2014, instead of taking a national approach, each institution begin the long (and arduous) process of clearly defining what it means to receive a credential from their particular institution. In addition, each institution should set up adequate methods of gauging whether or not students are indeed acquiring those skills and knowledge. This would go a long way in building an institutional “brand” and employers should be able to easily understand and identify with both the definitions and the assessments. There are plenty of frameworks readily available to assist in the process, including Lumina’s Degree Qualifications Profile and a multitude of institutions that have been quite successful at this endeavor.

2)      Invest in a solid IR infrastructure

This one may seem biased considering I came up through the institutional research ranks, but I still contend that a well-staffed and competent IR office can go a long way in helping an institution navigate budget reductions, strategically plan for growth and pursue continuous improvement. Today, as a staff member on a statewide policy making board (no longer working directly in IR on a campus), I regularly see institutions in my state that have utilized their IR capacity with great success. I have also seen many who have not and have made avoidable (and costly) mistakes.  Having reliable data and IR staff members that are able to lend context to that data is indispensable to campus leadership at all times, but especially during financially trying times when truly tough decisions about resource allocation have to be made.  In 2014, institutions would be wise to bolster their IR infrastructure with personnel and software.

3)      Re-imagine graduate education

In 2014 I hope that some brave souls in graduate education begin to publicly admit that not every student who pursues a PhD will be a rock-star researcher at a highly prestigious university and….THAT IS OK! In turn I hope those same brave souls have further courage to re-imagine the way in which graduate education is delivered. I hope that this re-imagining includes some sort of “different paths” approach; one in which PhD candidates can choose a teaching route or a research route, with both paths including some element of both. A teaching route would give students the skills they need to be effective teachers at the college level, along with traditional research skills. A research path would be much like what we have today but would also incorporate some basic courses on pedagogy. I think this more realistic and balanced approach would go a long way towards quelling unrealistic expectations and unfounded feelings of failure among PhD students.  It would also boost the level of confidence and professionalism among the teaching ranks in higher education (possibly fueling the already desperate need for recognition of the value of teaching prowess on college campuses).

So there they are. What would you add to the list?

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It’s the Same Old Song- Tuition Policy in Louisiana

four-tops-its-the-same-old-song-motownIt is indeed the same old song in Louisiana these days as a legislatively-appointed task force completes its several-months-long study of tuition policy in the State. As argued in an opinion piece in today’s The Advocate, the conclusions borne by the task force are well-worn and stand little chance of actually being implemented.

At the root of the task force’s conclusions is a need for greater flexibility for Louisiana’s public institutions, including tuition setting authority (which in Louisiana currently requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature), the ability to charge differential tuition for high-cost programs and the ability to charge per credit hour tuition (currently it’s a flate rate for 12 or more credit hours).

It seems quite ironic to me that in an era in which the Legislature and the Governor consistently call upon higher education to act more “like a business” and to be “more entrepreneurial,” that they continue to deny higher education leaders the same flexibility and discretion awarded to private businesses.



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Kudos to Common Sense Thinking in Financial Aid

untitledIn today’s edition of Inside Higher Ed Justin Draeger, President and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, highlighted three very basic, common sense approaches that could increase access to, continuous enrollment and, ultimately, success in college. These three suggestions are so down-to-earth and logical that they just might work!

The use of prior-prior year tax returns makes much sense and could mediate timing issues that are so often the headache of students, parents and financial aid advisors alike.

An early “Pell notification” in the 9th grade would give parents and students some idea of what funds will likely be available for them when they enter college, and would likely reduce the “sticker shock” that often convinces students early on that college is out of their reach.

Lastly, the “Pell Well” of funds advocated by Draeger may be the most difficult to implement but would incentivize continuous enrollment and hopefully timely graduation.

Kudos to Mr. Draeger!

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