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Some Thoughts About The Future Of Higher Education

As more institutions announce their plans for the fall, and we see reports of how some student-athletes are testing positive after participating in workouts, I was drawn to Behavior Pledges, Empty Stadiums, and Widespread Testing.

One specific statement that jumped out at me came from Timothy P. White, chancellor of the California State University system.

When we got into late February/early March, it became very clear that we had to pivot from how do we hang on to the past in any way we can to thinking how do we go to virtual in every place we can? And that was a cultural shift for the university, for its leaders, and for our faculty and staff.

This caught my attention because the focus is on “how to go virtual” rather than “how best to consistently deliver a unique, valuable experience for our key constituencies.”

Now you might think that is nit-picking, but it speaks to vision.  What we have seen so far is a shift to a virtual experience but not a shift to a high-quality for all virtual experience.  And for a lot of students, the online education experience was less than acceptable.

“What we’re creating is not the ideal of what remote instruction looks like,” said Robin Garrell, dean of the graduate division at UCLA. “It can be really exciting to think about, but no one has time to think about it right now. What we’re creating is not going to be representative at all of what is possible.”

What leaders of our institutions of higher education need to be doing right this minute is focusing on building up the virtual experience for their key constituencies.   Do not look at this shift as a temporary tactic that will be put aside in the fall.  Instead, look at this as your institutions first step down the long road of delivering a world-class experience virtually as well as in-person.

Why?

Because you sure do not want to get caught unprepared in the future.  And relying on tuition revenue for classroom courses or revenue from room and board as primary revenue streams just seem extremely risky – and having the flexibility of virtual operations can help protect or even replace some revenue streams if needed.

Yes, turning your institution’s virtual capabilities into a strength will require money and time and perhaps even some additional expertise not currently found on staff. But make the investment with an eye towards the long-term rather than a short-term “get us over the hump until we get back to normal.”

Because we might not get back to normal.

Or getting back to normal might have a few starts-and-stops along the way.

And in either of these scenarios, you will need to consistently deliver valuable virtual experiences.  If you do not, you risk losing students, faculty, and staff – for the long-term.

Strengthening your virtual capabilities might mean partnerships rather than trying to do-it-yourself – and that can be effective if done properly.  Just remember that as you move forward, you need to create an efficient process for getting input from your key constituencies so that you have a clear vision for where the institution is going and how everyone will get there together.  Plus, having these groups involved in designing the vision leads to buy-in and typically leads to more successful outcomes.

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Strategic turnaround consultant and writer.

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