The New World of Higher Education Administrators (that don’t work at your University)

Since my transition from a “traditional pathway” in higher education administration working for a University, I’ve become more and more sensitive to the various ways that future higher education leaders are building and complimenting their higher education experiences with valuable skill sets in other industries while maintaining their connection to serving higher education.

It seems, at least in part, this is the result of “The Outsourced College” which Dave Jarrat of InsideTrack notes, is the result of “[universities]…going through a process of discovery of determining what is their core competency — what do they want to own — and what services are available that they can leverage.”

Since leaving my work as  an administrator on a college campus nearly 3 years ago, I’ve spoken to dozens of young pros and graduate students and read several stories of folks who are interested in a change of pace, exploring alternative pathways to specific skill sets, or anticipating the changes across the industry, and I wonder what the long-term impacts of this evolution might be.  When they leave, where do they go, and will they come back? And if they don’t what are the implications of this for the field as a whole?

While the Bureau Labor Statistics projects “faster than average growth” in Postsecondary Education Administrator jobs across the next 8 years, as this reflects a median salary of 88K, I suspect that the type of role that sits in this category is likely representative of senior administration rather than the field at large.  In fact, Master’s degrees across a variety of Education, Teaching, and Curriculum disciplines were rated by PayScale as among the “worst” degrees in 2016 given their long-term growth, median salary, and job satisfaction and stress.

Maybe better than observing that pros are leaving or exploring when they leave, is asking questions around why they’re leaving. Many (state) Universities establish long-term benefits related to tenure in Teacher Retirement Systems, as well as tuition reimbursements, but fall short when it comes to the incremental pay, incentives, and title increases that categorize growth and engagement– the ladder for growth and engagement at the University isn’t clear, and isn’t aligned with evaluation metrics or incentives.

Furthermore, it’s all too often that colleagues joke with me about their limited job growth because of department leaders who have held their seat for a significant portion of their career.  It leaves little room for a fresh, young, idealistic, energetic employee interested in confronting systemic problems or complex challenges at the University.  It creates tension around forcing the new kids on the block to either “find their counterparts” and advocate for grassroots change to make their own way or “wait their turn.”  The result? Young, fresh, enthusiastic pros honing their skills at one University to lead at another while incrementally climb the ladder while skipping across states and functional areas.

But before we entertain the critiques on millenials as “job hoppers,” let’s take a look at the data aside from some exceptionally good summative points; namely that  “we should be looking at our business practices and our human capital strategies. If we’re seeing turnover rise in roles that are traditionally held by people who are 20-34, it’s not them. It’s us,” a review of BLS data shows that “job hopping” is no more prevalent in practical terms today than it was for either Gen X or Boomers, and it raises some tough questions:

  • How does higher education adjust incentives to align with known practices to increase employee retention? Is this an acknowledged risk, problem or priority?
  • How do hiring practices within higher education react to pauses or punctuated experience in traditional higher education roles? What is the hiring process reaction to “outsiders?”
  • What does higher education risk or sacrifice by undervaluing experiences tangentially related to the  industry?

In many fields, the type of job retention stats outlined above might be easily overlooked, noting that middle management is remaining in positions once they’ve settle into their career and a company that they’ll spend a significant portion of their career in, and retire (those same folks that entry level professional look at occupying positions they long to occupy) from; but there’s a nuance that may be easily overlooked in higher ed.  Those same entry-level professionals churning based on their lack of growth, opportunity, or new challenges are the same pros who are on the front-lines working with students who senior administrators largely depend on to support and ensure a students’ success.

A students’ dissatisfaction reflects a bad conversation with an academic advisor, or a organization advisor that exits mid-semester– and the moral imperative and emotional connection that we invest in watching students succeed ultimately won’t keep staff who yearn to achieve in seat for very long (without the right tools for engagement).

While I work as a higher education consultant supporting student success through the strategy and implementation of a technology, I still consider myself a higher education administrator at heart, and I haven’t seen my last day working directly for a University. But before it will reenter my realm of consideration, a cultural shift will have emerged that reflects the need to approach problems in innovative ways, take risks, fail smart, and adapt to the workforce and cultural needs that it supports.

And it’s clear that I’m not alone.  I’ve seen an incredible number of members of the student affairs community online engaging in this discussion, exploring opportunities, and taking the leap from traditional work in student affairs to engaging their skills gained in education administration in new ways.  What’s more is they are met with an expansive, and growing market of opportunities.  Young  startups companies who have a product but need a terrain expert with a strong network.  And technology companies are already more heavily recruiting professionals with liberal arts, humanities, and other ‘non-technical’ backgrounds because of their ability to “connect with end users and figure out what they want.”  If you’re curious, EdSurge has created a guide outlining research and resources to make the leap.

Taken in sum with the evolving trends of the “outsourcing” within higher education, the result is a more competitive job market for the attentions and talents of student affairs pros to engage their skills in a different way within higher education, and an  industry that may increasingly require the ability to engage meaningfully with other sectors that support what represent core student affairs functions today as Dave outlined above.

So with the question below at-hand; what changes do you think need to be made to engage this evolving climate?

The Number One Challenge Students and Organizational Advisors are Facing, and Other Insights

As you might have seen, I’ve been investigating the concept of the Advisor Role in Organizational Development and Growth through a surveys on Facebook and Twitter to better understand the depth of understanding that advisors have around organizational challenges, as well as their preparedness and approaches to assist student organizations to overcome the challenges that they are experiencing.  I’m  still unpacking the results as a whole, but there are a few insights that I thought might be interesting, and would generate some meaningful fodder along the way.

Before I start, what I didn’t mention is that I’ve also been pursuing student reactions around these same questions (both via survey and more qualitatively through one-on-one interviews), and a few interesting things are bubbling to the surface.

Most Organization Advisors Surveyed have between 4-6 and 10+ years experience

There were two larger groups that emerged from the survey respondents– professionals with between 4-6 years experience, and 10+ years experience, with a significant majority (95%) classifying themselves as Student Affairs Administrators (n=20).

Advisors and Students Agree Around Primary Organizational Challenge
Of the challenges shared in the qualitative responses from Advisors, I coded 6 primary categories of organizational challenges that I then shared across several different Facebook groups (full of Student Organization Advisors, and students, respectively).  Combining these responses, there were two organizational challenges that far outweighed others in frequency, with nearly one-third of Organization Advisors, and nearly half of student leaders, identifying Member Retention being the primary organizational challenge that their organization is facing.
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Advisor Survey Results (n=123)
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Student Survey Results (n=42)







Advisors Feel Confident they Understand Student Organization Challenges, Less feel Comfortable Facing Them

While 70% of advisors “Strongly Agree” that they understand the problems facing their organization, the majority of advisors felt less comfortable in their ability to assist students in facing those challenges, and about half of advisors said they have a defined plan in place to  confront challenges facing their organizations (n=23).


Moreover, when asked how they confront the challenges that their organizations are facing, the  answers varied widely, and rarely incorporated specific frameworks.  With that said, the most common approaches involved students in “brainstorming” solutions.

These insights represent just the beginning of my exploration of the topic (both in research, and in synthesis).  I have a framework and a theory in mind that I believe can serve as the starting point to effectively equip student organization advisors, and students, to confront the challenges that they’ve identified in their organizations.  I have plenty of more to learn, and lot’s more folks to chat with; if you want to be one of them, share your contact information below!

The Role of an Advisor in Organizational Growth and Development

I’ve had a lot of nudges thinking back to my work directly with students over the last week or so (including Stanford’s work using Design Thinking to completely reimagine the future of higher education and Christina Wellhouser’s post on Leaving Higher Ed), and I think about how different my work and its style looks now compared to the way it did as a a student affairs professional.  I realize that I now approach at my work from an entirely different place (partially given the scale and scope of the initiatives we’re focused on), having stepped into a consultative role with President’s and Provosts – but all it largely starts with identifying, agreeing upon, and understanding an agreed problem that we’re trying to solve.

There are a lot of different ways to approach getting to an initial problem and root cause, so I’m not going to focus on the philosophical approach that we take in the process of solving a problem- yet.

But given my background in student activities and leadership development, I couldn’t help but be drawn into focus on my current approach to problem solving compared to my approach when I was directly advising students.  Given the difference in audience between role, the style that is used to solve problems is likely to adapt, but the approach may have some consistency regardless of the context– and that’s what I’m curious about across advisors on your campus.

Often referred to as the place that we “get students involved,” there are an incredible number of opportunities to engage students in learning and skill development outside of the classroom, often focused around critical thinking and problem solving.  I’ve long thought of student involvement as a “leadership lab,” but continue to believe that there is still work to be done— and I’m interested in learning more about the landscape with all of you, and sharing my hypotheses, lessons, and prototypes along the way.

So, if you’re willing, tell me more about your approach to advising student organizations to facilitate their development, and share the link to the form below with other student organization advisors on your campus (find some scripting to copy/paste into an email below)- this is just the beginning




A colleague of mine is hoping to learn more about how we understand, engage, and initiate organizational growth and development for student’s in organizations that we advise.  Click here to take the 10 question survey (only takes about 7 minutes), and you can read more background around him and his work here.


What Your Next Transcript Might Look Like (and who is working on it)

I’ve already used this space to provide some context for the disruption that’s coming from recent developments in federal financial aid, code academies and the possible disruptions that (could) take place. Others outline the broader skills/bootcamps/credentialing landscape more succinctly, so I won’t focus time in this post on that topic– in summary, because it’s no longer a matter of if, but when these initiatives will begin to really take root; and we’re getting close. Why? Because Foundations, Universities, Think Tanks, and Startups are already sowing ground on the topic.

While the early conceptions of College Credit Recommendation Service facilitated by ACE (established in 1974) have aimed to “connect workplace learning with colleges and universities by helping students gain access to academic credit for formal training taken outside traditional degree programs,” a new  era of assessing, capturing, and translating learning seems to be  underway.

The Lumina Foundation (a University Innovation Alliance (UIA) Partner) have provided grant funding to American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (in the ballpark of ~$1.4M for this particular project, although  it feels like a few hundred million have been spread across the various projects I’ll reference in this post) in supporting a number of innovative Universities specifically on the topic of an alternative transcript (to include both “curricular and co-curricular” student learning outcomes). More broadly, Lumina has a defined strategic priority of grantees focused on “Alternative Credentialing”  that has (at least some) roots back to work in 2008 around Degree Qualifications Profiling, developing out a “set of reference points for what students should know and be able to do upon completion of associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees – in any field of study” (DQP).

Along with involvement in the UIA and alongside the Lumina Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (among a number of others) are working with EDUCAUSE to partner around exploring a set of Next Generation Learning Challenges along 2- and 4-year institutions to explore innovative competency-based learning models.

In short– once we understand and agree upon how we assess, we connect the dots around what data we collect, how it’s captured, and the way it’s displayed.

And some are actually already exploring.  IPASS (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success) Grants have networks and connections across nearly all of these other groups, reflecting the effect that downwind, the technologies that track and measure progress, and the systems and infrastructure that support learning process that are skill and competency based, will require a different-in-kind approach.

Degreed is working on “Jailbreaking the Degree,” capturing learning across any number of points of interaction– MOOCs, online coursework, Podcasts, and Boot Campus (as a few) noting “there is no single path to expertise.” As an enterprise and “lifelong  learner” solution, it will force the hand of others to take action to continue to remain relevant.

And you might be thinking ‘yes, lot’s of people are talking,’ and ‘what does this have to do with my transcript?’ I’m confident that with Foundations planting seeds, Universities engaging, and ACE continuing to integrate the topic into conversations with Senior Academic Leaders (as recently as last month), we’re only getting started.  Industry continues to reflect that students aren’t entering the job market with the skills needed to be successful, and code academies (among numerous others), are trying to supplement the gaps to ensure that employees have both the opportunities and the preparation to explore new terrains as they appear.

While many Universities have taken a dive head first with establishing badges or other micro-credentials, others are betting on a human-centric design approach, and (alongside partners like Lumina and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), are engaging Design Thinking to explore the  problem, understand the challenges, and prototype solutions in a thoughtful, concerted way.  Very, very cool- higher education taking it’s own reflection, research, and innovative, iterative processing and trying new things- noting just how difficult it may feel.  Kathleen deLaski described it perfectly, noting that many university leaders were frustrated with “how to build the new plane while flying the old one,” but seeing several university leaders I work with in my higher education consulting practice pictured taking part in these activities further solidified my promise in our progress.

So while your transcript today reflects courses you checked off to earn a degree and the relative performance assessment given subjectively by your professor, someday in the (not so) distant future, it may be a living, breathing reflection of the knowledge, skills, and experienced gained throughout your experience along the way (globally across the institution), and assist in connecting the dots to engage a new industry or career (as a t-shaped professional, or otherwise).

The Arms Race in Technology Education: Smart HigherEd Partnerships and the Code Academy

Through my work in student success at a higher education research, technology, and consulting firm, I see and feel the pulse of higher education in the practice and influence on their policies, programs, and purse-strings every day. Universities are feeling declining enrollments,  increasingly more diverse student populations, unsustainable financial aid practices, and the value of college being brought into question through massive student loan debt, all of which have placed a premium and focus on quality education at scale while maintaining university enrollment by retaining students.  With my work in the growing technology arm of the firm, I find myself following closely the trends at the intersection of education and technology.

I would go so far as to say that innovations in technology (specifically the delivery of education in tech) will only place more pressure on universities to evolve, noting that economic trends and industry demands are likely to continue to create exert pressure on traditional higher education models.  In fact, in October the Department of Education announced a pilot partnership with “non-traditional providers” of post-secondary education, stating:

As part of ED’s experimental sites authority under HEA, EQUIP will accelerate and evaluate innovation through partnerships between colleges and universities and non-traditional providers of education, such as intensive “boot camps” building skills in particular fields, specific programs awarding certificates aligned to employer needs, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Eligible programs will lead to a degree or certificate, build students’ transferable academic credits, and provide students with the ever-changing skills they need for today’s economy. The experimental sites authority allows the Secretary to waive certain provisions regarding federal financial aid in order to improve the results achieved with federal student aid dollars. (Source: DOE Blog, Homeroom)

While in many ways this feels like the most divisive approach to supporting alternate forms of education, it also serves as a signal of things to come– federal pressure on higher education to consider more innovative, collaborative approaches that are skills-based, and economically driven.

In fact, some universities are already ahead of this curve, with SNHU Sandbox Collaborative positioning  central questions of their work on partnerships and “immersive learning,”: 

  • How can we better partner with government, business and industry to find solutions to the country’s most pressing challenges in higher education?
  • How do we participate in building the next generation of performance-based assessments and immersive learning environments? (Source: NextGen Learning)

In fact, SNHU has already begun taking steps in the direction of formalizing these types of partnerships.

Others, like General Assembly, are subtly taking note.  What’s more, visionaries in higher education like Arizona State University are formalizing tech-based partnerships like the Global Freshman Academy with edX, “a first-of-its-kind program that offers a unique entry point to an undergraduate degree” (Source:  And Apollo Education Group, the holding company of the University of Phoenix, is betting on Greenville, SC based code academy, The Iron Yard.

As private/public partnerships continue to become more commonplace, might there be a day when the code academy/highered partnership reflects the holistic education that has reinforced the value of the liberal arts?  With web and software developers, system analysts, and administrators occupying 4 of the top 10 most in-demand jobs of 2016 and growth projections from the Bureau of Labor statistics bullishly projecting demand for software developers ranging from 28% to 32% (depending on the type of software development), it’s a smart bet that we’d see partnerships grow, especially as recently noted by Forbes, liberal arts degrees are counted among “Tech’s Hottest Ticket.”  In a space where curriculum and job placement rates are the often touted differentiator, this point can’t be understated.

That said, in many ways, this isn’t a completely new idea– community partnerships have been a growing part of a universities local economic development and community engagement strategy.  My fear, however, is the saturation in the market as both higher education and tech begin to independently throw resources into the space.  With tech incubators, accelerators, code academies (or a hybrid), alongside co-working spaces and the culmination of all of the above, the start-up conception of this model is becoming more formalized across major markets.

However, as more and more universities launch “innovation centers” like the one at Michigan State University, I’m concerned higher educations’ investment in infrastructure over true innovation in the forward-thinking models in this space will be a missed bet.  As a result, the gray area in between ensures that the fast-paced innovation found in tech startups, and the proven student development and support models of higher education are overlooked in the process, hurting the fruits of both industries attempts to replicate and produce of successful characteristics of their counterpart.

One thing’s for sure- the innovative university, and the smart code academy will begin to think more and more strategically about formal partnerships with one another.  At least with so many code academies in the arms race for scale and entry into new markets throughout the United States, that’s my big prediction in higher ed across 2016.

What do you think?

I’m Back

It’s been a while! The long story (made infinitely shorter by my generally positive regard, combined with the futility of frustration), is that after some inactivity, I lost track of the condition of and all it’s related contents faded into the deep-web oblivion.

For a while, it felt like a good thing- more bandwidth to focus on other areas of my life, less pressure and distraction focused on content development and site maintenance, and the cheery reality that I “could always start up another site/blog up again another time.”  But not long after, that shine wore off, and I was left wondering what I would do with this digital echo chamber if I had it back- I brainstormed topics of interest and areas of focus; building, demolishing, redesigning, and rebuilding.  I romanticized posts that were lost, and the “good old days” of ideas set adrift into the interwebs met with support, contention, and thoughtful commentary.

And in that romanticizing, I found myself tragically overwhelmed by the notion that those dozens of ideas, hundreds of posts, years of editorializing and chronicling my experiences and development were gone.

What do you do when all of your musings (seemingly, read: foreshadowing) disappear from the Internet?   It’s an odd question to navigate, and a existential crisis that only exists in an age where your digital life is a mirror and reference point across your experiences- personal reflections, written snapshots, pinned ideas, digital representations of connections with people who we once stood with face to face, and perhaps some we haven’t.

So I decided to do something else, for myself, at least at first.  I filled page after page in Evernote, to keep my writing skills sharp, eventually tiring of the medium (although you’re likely to hear more about this later).  Then I decided to try my hand at chronicling in a Moleskine, which left me with a sore hand and frustration around its disconnection from the world outside.  Months passed, and it collected dust, as did the writer in me.

Needless to say, with a new year came a renewed focus to start fresh (or at least find that damn content I had invested to much time in creating).  So I scoured the internet for cached pages, remnants, or debris from the old, and thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I managed to find an impressive amount (given my previous results, and low expectations); finding that content inspired a larger fresh start– the one you’re looking at (let’s call it v2.0).

I’m excited about it– seven years, six states, and thousands of words since my first words posted online at this domain.  With that excitement, comes a disclaimer: after all of that aforementioned reflection on focus and scope on what I would do if I “came back,” I decided to throw it all out and let this one grow organically. Without a doubt, I’ll bring back some of the greatest hits from v1.0, but beyond that, it’ll be a work in progress.
So– if you haven’t met me before, let me introduce myself.  If you’re an old friend, enjoy a few timelessly salient throwbacks (time-stamped with their original post dates for good measure) and take a look around.
It’s good to be back- do you mind sharing and telling your friends?

Leading in Uncertain Times

If someone had asked me weeks ago what I thought I would be doing at 5 pm on a Sunday in mid September, I might have answered “reading case law or student development,” or at best, watching some football and preparing for the week ahead.  One thing is for sure, I would never have guessed I would be sitting down to the first meeting with a my new RA staff processing the recent departure of a staff member and affirming my support and focus on providing stability over the coming weeks.

At best, the group has been flying through turbulence over the last few weeks.  With often supplementary support by the department, the recent announcement of medical leave by their full-time staff member meant it was time for contingency plans to be brought to action.

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Professional Development on a Graduate School Budget

Between Ed Cabellon‘s clarion call for #sagrow students to describe their professional development needs and aspirations and a conversation I had earlier this week with some of the first year Graduate Hall Directors at A&M about “getting tapped into Student Affairs ‘hot topics’,” I thought it might be helpful to centralize a post with some suggestions about professional development with little to no budget. Read more

Getting students “in”volved: A view from outside the circle

Over the last few weeks I have been part of several conversations about the constant evaluation and evolutionary process of the leadership programs at my internship.  Not only are we continuing to develop program and learning outcomes, but also evaluating the structure and format of the programs themselves, and the resources that are allocated to them.

While the benefits of getting students involved are well-documented (often correlated to higher retention, GPAs, stronger engagement, and opportunities to build all kinds of beneficial skill sets and through their experiences), what continually sticks out to me, is that many of the programs and initiatives coming out of our offices of student involvement and activities are year long, or multi-year programs.  These allow us to not only build connections to student over time to see (and document) their growth, but also develop strong connections between students as well.  Everyone wins, right? Read more

Statement of Purpose: Beyond ‘About Me’

After getting an email from a friend at RWU interested in Student Affairs and working on developing Grad School applications, I realized that I while I’ve spoken a lot about the ‘process of graduate applications’ in Student Affairs: Farm League, I’ve never actually explained what my ‘Statement of Purpose’ was when I was entering Graduate School.  With the start of my experience only 4 weeks away, and a forum like this one to actually post it, I thought it would serve as a great reminder to me of how I got here.  I think every now and then I’ll need it, and posting I here means it’s easy for me to get at, and (hopefully) an interesting read for my audience, (whoever that may be) along with some insight on who I am and how I got here; beyond an ‘About Me’ tab. Thanks for reading!

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