Photo by Eila Lifflander on Unsplash

CEO Insights: The Big 3 Challenges for 2019

University Business recently released the findings of their survey of presidents, chancellors and provosts entitled Outlook on Institutional Leadership and I don’t think anyone was all that shocked at the findings. 

The top three challenges were “…increasing enrollments, student success initiatives and controlling costs.” 

Or, in a word, revenue.  

How to attract new sources of revenue. How to retain existing sources of revenue. And how to control costs so more of that revenue becomes profits. 


Many of the college and university leaders I have spoken with over the past year are struggling –or in some instances failing – to make the time to discuss strategic issues at board meetings.   

This needs to change. The board is responsible for strategic planning, developing and approving the institution’s strategic goals and objectives. So, they need to take the lead on strategic planning. 

If they fail to put time on the agenda, the president/chancellor must insist that the agenda be changed so there is time to discuss strategy. And they must do whatever is necessary to make certain that the discussion time is beneficial even if that means developing the agenda and leading that portion of the board meeting.   


For the most part, ‘strategic plans’ at colleges and universities are lacking the details necessary for the staff of the institution to implement – this is another area that needs to change. A strategic plan that is written at the 60,000-foot level fails to address issues that those on the ground need to address – and when those on the ground encounter those issues the popular response is to ask for directions and permissions rather then take charge, make the decision and possibly beg for forgiveness later. 

And no, I am not suggesting those details come from the board, creating the worst possible case for micro-management ever. But I am suggesting that, as the plan develops the strategies and tactics recommended to achieve the goals and objectives, all parties must come together to discuss, modify, and approve. 


Because that level of understanding is important to have when the performance reports come in and show that the institution is – or isn’t – all that effective.  


For many institutions, the data are limited to internal sources, which provides only part of the picture. 

Take retention for example. Data from the application combined with attendance, grades, date registered/days prior to start of term and other similar data points are a great start but there are other factors, personal and professional, that impact retention and many institutions haven’t identified them or created effective processes for capturing and analyzing those data. 

For example, the student’s professional life can impact retention when there is uncertainty about continued employment – or when the student is promoted, and new responsibilities mean less time for school. 

At home, the health of family members as well as personal health can impact enrollment – as can relationship status. 

Being able to sit down and map out what questions you need to answer to be more efficient and effective is important because that end-result is better insight and better decision-making. 

Remember, every institution is interested in improving retention and graduation rates but developing an effective strategy requires knowing what you are trying to address and solve. You can’t have a strategy designed to “fix” every potential explanation for students leaving your institution for personal or professional reasons – but you might be able to develop a strategy that helps those facing personal or professional change work through the issues while remaining enrolled

Written by

Strategic turnaround consultant and writer.

Leave a Reply