Book Rec: “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” – Chip Heath & Dan Heath

switchIt’s no secret that higher education is undergoing an incredible amount of change at the current moment. Technological innovations (some would say disruption), decreasing federal & state support, rising tuition, demographic shifts, and a philanthropically funded national completion agenda are all converging upon academe.

I work at a state level coordinating board and therefore know all to well these forces and their current effects upon postsecondary education. Considering all of this and the simple fact that, well, change is hard, our office built an entire professional development series around the subject of…you got it, CHANGE. I was lucky enough to be a part of the professional development leadership team and worked many long hours with my colleagues to plan, put together and put on a 6-week summer professional development series for our office.

Guiding us was Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.” We ordered a copy of the book for all staff members and each session of our professional development series focused on a specific aspect of the book.

The book presents a three-part change framework:

1. Direct the Rider (the analytical, logical part of our brains) by providing a vision of the ultimate goal and giving clear direction on how to get there.

2. Motivate the Elephant (the emotionally driven part of our brains) by cultivating an emotional connection to the change.

3.  Shape the Path by making the change process easier for people through the outlining of easy, clear and manageable steps.

Switch Framework

The tenants of the framework can be applied at the individual or organizational level, which gave our professional development series broad appeal. The book is also jam-packed with real world and extremely interesting examples of the tenants put in to action.

It’s a great read for managers and would be applicable to any type of organization.

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Bits of Wisdom to the Incoming Class of 2013

ELAC_Campus_StudentsIn the coming weeks, millions of students will start their college journey on college campuses across America.  It is indeed a special, coming-of-age time for America’s young adults.

Many students will sit through rousing, and some not-so-rousing, welcome speeches from Chancellors, Deans and upper classmen- speeches that will attempt to impart upon them some wisdom about “how to do college well.” One such speech, given by Georgia Tech upper classman Nicholas Selby , made headlines this year and went viral on YouTube.

building-a-blogging-audienceAs I think back on my college days, I remember highs and lows, things I would have done differently and a few things that I think I really got right. Today I’d like to impart a few words of wisdom to the fall 2013 incoming class.

Pick a passion and have a plan

If you can’t pick a major from the get-go, do so as soon as possible. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you to pick something you love. That’s right, pick something that’s going to make you want to get up in the morning and go to class. Pick something that you’re pumped about spending four years studying. Yes, some majors are more valued in the market than others (Engineering, for example) but if you hate the subject, you’ll likely hate working in that field- a waste of time for you, your future employer and society. I chose History, a subject which utterly enthralled me, and my life has been better for it.

Once you’ve picked your passion, develop a reasonable time-line for completing your degree and stick to it! Consult your degree audit (if you don’t know what a degree audit is, find out!). National studies have shown that taking 15 hours per semester can greatly increase your chances of finishing on-time (4 years). Break your degree audit down in to 15-hour chunks and stick with it.

An education is what you make of it

I know many people who went to very prestigious schools, graduated and admit they learned little to nothing. Being at the “right” school means nothing; learning does not happen via osmosis.  As easy as it is to blame a professor for your lack of learning, college is really about learning how to learn in different environments and from different people- a skill which will come in handy in the fast-paced work world.  Learn how to be your own learning advocate, deciphering when you don’t know something, speaking up and seeking out opportunities/ways to learn things better and deeper.

Know thyself

Yes, it’s a cliché but boy oh boy is it ever true! Perhaps one of the most valuable things you will learn in college is the inner-workings of yourself. You will learn about your own self-discipline (or lack thereof), what you’re passion about, what motivates and doesn’t motivate you, how you learn, and how to teach yourself something- all of which will help you throughout life. So, pay attention to your reactions to things, when you are most and least productive, and which classes and professors really motivate you and why.

Go to free lectures on campus

One of the things I truly regret about my college days is that I didn’t take advantage of the rich intellectual culture on my college campus. Free lectures, seminars and workshops are typically aplenty on college campuses. Never again will you be in an environment with so many ideas and intellectually-driven people swirling around, so take advantage of it!

Work (preferably in a field related or somewhat related to your major)

When you graduate college and set out, resume in hand, into the workforce you’ll find interviewers wanting to know about your work experience- any work experience. The ideal is of course to work in something related to your major so that you can build connections and a familiarity with industry culture and lingo, but that’s not completely necessary. I worked as a waitress during my college days and while it was not applicable to my career aspirations I was able to communicate some transferable skills during interviews (showing up on time, ability to learn in a fast-paced environment, a customer-service oriented attitude). The point is, even if you’re lucky enough to not have to work while in college, do something to build your resume and future interview talking points. It may even be volunteer work or a leadership position within a student organization on campus.

Take an introduction to economics class

Although I didn’t major in Economics I did take many economics classes (in both undergrad and in graduate school). It will revolutionize the way you look at the world. I use the principles and theories I learned in those classes in almost every facet of my life today- from my personal relationships, to house training my dog, to understanding local taxes.

And if I might add a few others (if you have time beyond taking the introduction to economics course), take a basic statistics course for it will make you a wise consumer and keen observer of the news; an American or World History course for it will lend context to many of the day’s current events; and a basic finance course for it will make you an efficient steward of your money and shrewd investor.

Get to know at least 1 or 2 of your professors really well

Although I enjoyed a good number of my professors and learned a great deal in many of their classes, I was content to remain a number and name throughout college. I failed to develop really personal, intellectually-engaging relationships with my professors and I have always regretted it. From a practical perspective it made securing genuine letters of recommendation for graduate school difficult. But on a much more meaningful level, I feel that I probably missed out on learning more broadly and deeply about particular subjects.

Attempt to make interdisciplinary connections

When I was an undergraduate, I failed to grasp the greater connections between many of the disparate courses I took. Many of you may be lucky enough to have interdisciplinary courses and you should relish those. But for those of you who do not have access to interdisciplinary courses, seek out on your time the wider and deeper connections between the various disciplines you are exposed to. Your learning will be richer and your world view broader if you do so.

What about you? What advice would you give to the incoming class of 2013?

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Kudos to State Funding Upturns

imagesAccording to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ (AASCU) most recent edition of it’s “State Outlook” report, there have been significant upturns (as compared to FY 13) in state funding for higher education in 37 of the 48 states for which AASCU has receieved fiscal information. Kudos to those states which have stemmed the tide of budget reductions to public postsecondary education, most notable of which are Massachusetts (16.8%) and Washington (12%).

I won’t venture into the severe decline seen in my state, but instead congratulate others on their investment in their state’s future.

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Things That Make American Higher Education Truly “American”

Inspired by Fortune’s “100 Great Things About America”  and in celebration of our nation’s birthday tomorrow, I set out to come up with a list of things that make American Higher Education truly “American.”

23Big-Time College Sports

Be it The Big 10 or the SEC, American collegiate athletics has no rival. Alumni or not, we Americans love our college teams.

01nwLSUBand7The Collegiate Marching Band

Closely akin to the big-time college athletics enterprise, the American collegiate marching band is in a league of its own. From dazzling fans at games to invoking fear in rival teams via menacing cadences, the American collegiate marching band is a tour de force.

The Liberal Education Model imagesCASUC4IS

Despite recent calls for increased specialization, top schools in the U.S. have historically championed a liberal style of learning and broad education. With a nod to founding father Thomas Jefferson, American higher education has long considered it its mission to educate well-rounded, independent thinking citizens for their future role in a democratic republic.


The Community College

America was built upon the notion of equal opportunity and no where is that ideal more alive than within the community college. Founded in the early 20th century in response to a need for a more vocationally skilled workforce, community colleges helped propel America into global economic dominance. Today, with open admission policies community colleges remain a beakon of equal opportunity for all who seek to better themselves through education.



Still chaffing under the edicts of a highly centralized British government, our founding fathers ratified the the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution- providing that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constituion, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or the people. Education has ever since been under the direct purview of the States.


The Land Grants

With the signing of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, higher education became a nationwide imperative. The establishment of the land grant institutions (an unprecedented concept) meant that every citizen in the United States had a public higher education institution in his or her home state.

Regional Accreditation SACS

The “keep it local” approach is as American as apple pie. The American regional accreditation system was borne of the need for quality assurance in the absence of federal regulation. Today, the regional accrediting agencies review and accredit nearly 3,000 colleges and universities.



Love em’ or hate em’ the panhellenic societies are just as much a part of the American higher education experience as football games, FAFSA and degree audits. Their exclusivity and historically upper-class membership remind us that America, although hailed as the land of equality, can often be a contradiction in terms.

Happy Fourth of July to you and yours!

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Kudos to Big 10 Provosts

big_ten_conference_pennants_20738bigIn today’s edition of Inside Higher Ed Ry Rivard chronicles the on-going high-level talks between the provosts of the Big 10 universities and the University of Chicago to create their own online education network across their campuses, bypassing the for-profit MOOC mania. (You can read the full article here).

Kudos to the provosts for innovative thinking and for the gumption to buck the trend and keep their intellectual property in-house. I especially like the sentiments expressed by U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Provost Ilesanmi Adesida:

“The main thing for us is… how can the CIC schools be proactive in terms of  innovation and learning? How can we be of more benefit to students  jointly?”

It’s not that I am anti for-profit MOOC provider but I am happy to see a well-respected system of institutions recognizing that online education is not going away and taking it upon themseleves to ensure their relevancy.

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Education and Economic Prosperity: The Devil’s in the Details

Great minds

Throughout history, pundits and leaders have alluded to a connection between education and economic prosperity. The theory seems plausible and most of us “know” intuitively that a better-educated society reaps greater economic benefits. But does the phenomena play out in the math? Can it be “proven” in a statistical sense? A recent report by the Milken Institute has set out to do just that. You can view the entire report here.

According the report:


“Adding one extra year to the average years of school among the emplpoyed in a metro area is associated with an increase in real GDP per capita of 10.5% and an increase in real wages per worker of 8.4.”

To get to this return on investment, the authors plugged data into the equation below in order to see how inputs (labor and physical capital) translate to production output (measured as real GDP per capita).


Over 70% of the variation in real GDP across 261 metros from 1990 to 2012 was explained by the model. But, the devil is certainly in the details….

Yes, investing in education (in general) yields positive economic results but some educational investments will produce greater results than others. The report found that investing in education yeilds a greater economic result when policymakers concentrate on citizens with at least a high school diploma. Adding 1 additional year of school among citizens with at least a high school diploma yields a 17.4% increase in GDP per capita and a 17.8% increase in real wages per worker. On the other hand, adding 1 additional year of school among citizens without a high school diploma yields no significant effect upon GDP per capita or real wages. This finding is important for policymakers with limited resources and a need to deploy those resources in a strategic manner.

In addition, the report also found that industry mix matters. Given the same number of average years of schooling among the workforce, the returns to one more year of education are the greatest in metros with a large employment share of business and IT services industries. Both of these industries involve high-skilled jobs and entry-level employment in both industries requires post-secondary education. A high concentration of employment in high-skilled industries is certainly a tide that lifts all ships as employees in those industries buy houses and utilize services in a local economy.

So, given this information the authors wondered…what if the average years of schooling in all metro areas equaled 14.58- the average years of schooling in the best-educated metro in the country (the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria area)? What would be the effect on GDP per capita and real wages per capita in those economies?

Below are the results of this “what if” exercise for 7 of Louisiana’s largest metro areas:

what if

So how do we do it? How do policy makers in Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Houma, Lafayette, Monroe, New Orleans, and Sherveport move from where we are now to double digit GDP per capita growth? The authors of the study offer five policy recommendations:

policy recs

With decreased public investments in higher education occuring nationwide, I fear policy recommendation #1 may not be in the offing (at least in the short term). Recommendations #2 and #3, without increased financial aid, may work against one another. I do, however, have great hope for Recommendation #4; as state dollars dwindle institutions will have to become much more focused on what I call the “utility” of the degree and they will increasingly reach out to employers for feedback. As for #5, it looks like in the short term much R&D will likely be funded by private dollars, for better and for worse.






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Book Rec: The History of Higher Education in Louisiana- Curtis Manning

51gYLyIq4JL__SY320_Curtis Manning’s “The History of Higher Education in Louisiana” is, yes, very Louisiana-specific. But even if you don’t live, work or otherwise have any interest in the colorful political and educational history of Louisiana, the book is still a great case study on the role state governments have played in the development (and sometimes in the hindrance) of public higher education.

Throughout the book, Manning builds a case that there are two great themes in Louisiana’s higher education history- the first being the continuance of the “strong king” system from the State’s colonial past through today, and the second being the development and nurturance of a de facto, racially segregated dual education system.

The messy and often haphazard interplay between politics and education are well illustrated in the book. As Louisiana, like many other states,  looks to the future the past is prologue.

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