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Building Education’s Future

First, a little about me.  This isn’t a story about me, it’s about something much bigger- but I think setting the stage for where a community grew out from might just make it more real.

When I moved to DC in 2013 to join EAB, I was excited to contribute to a growing movement focused on student success, enabling advising at institutions like MTSU with predictive data and organizing institutional efforts around the use of data and technology to help students succeed. With this broadening perspective around the forces at work within higher education around enrollment, alternative pathways, and evolving relationship we have with learning in the context of work, I began to watch and explore the emerging trends.

Doing so, I decided to pursue a next step leading the DC Campus of The Iron Yard, a coding bootcamp, to see one expression of these trends first-hand. Now, a month into my work at the Education Design Lab, the macro-view across pathways had me thinking about how valuable it is to step into that view and perspective of education to ask fundamental questions, and reframe our thinking about the goals and values of education.

Enter Grant. Grant is a friend and former colleague from EAB. Every time he and I get together, there’s an energy that’s created around the momentum and promise that education has today, talking about:

  • the way that technology influences it’s direction and evolution,
  • the way that new delivery models are changing the way that people fundamentally approach learning and ongoing development;
  • the way that technology is fundamentally changing the economy and labor market, forcing us to reevaluate the skills people need to thrive in the 21st century, forcing education to adapt.

There are so many forces moving at such an incredible rate- there’s a lot to keep tabs on, get excited about (and adapt to) if you’re making a career out of the education space. He and I can hardly keep up with one another.

And since Grant and I have enjoyed these conversations, we wondered if there might be other people who might be interested in joining in as well. So we launched Education Experience Design DC to fill in a hole for discussions somewhere at the intersection of edtech, education policy, education administration, design thinking, user experience, and service design.

In short, we wanted to figured out how we can bring forward more discussions around the way we design policies, ecosystems, and technologies around the student, and what that shift might mean for the future of the future design, features, and function of education?

Further, what if we had a space to bring together people who were deliberately thinking about this leading edge of education design and innovation, and are building practices into their work? Grant and I decided that was a place that we wanted to be…and that it didn’t already exist. So we set it up. As our meetup espouses:

We’re bringing together education innovators working in every segment of education: educators, policy makers, administrators, design, and edtech pros for conversation, skill building, and sharing best practices around preparing students for success in the future of education and beyond. Expect a little bit of show + tell, a little bit of book club, and great connections.

With nearly a hundred members coming together in just a few days, with the vision, now comes the execution; and I’m hoping that it might inspire and provoke those who see themselves invested in being part of this movement to stand up and raise their hand in one way or another. If that’s you, Grant and I have a few favors to ask (after you go and join the Meetup group, that is).

  • We need a space (ideally, free) to bring together this bunch of education innovators.
  • We want to build the network of folks involved, and find presenters and facilitators who are interested in provoking a conversation, leading a workshop, or presenting their vision for the future of education.
  • We’d love to find creative ways to document the conversations that take place to share them beyond the limitations of space and time at our events.
  • We’d love a sponsor to help keep the lights on to list our Meetup page, to support our speaker’s (in-kind buys of books, gear, or the like), supplies, and to help feed the (hopeful) masses as people join us on the journey.  We’ll likely ask for a couple of bucks to hold your seat as a show of good faith and a commitment to the community, but unfortunately it will take more than that to feed the crowd.

We know they’re big asks, but to chase after work that can bring such an important group together to have big discussions around the future of education, Grant and I are willing to step up and be the advocates for that space.

So, with that:

Have a space you’re willing to offer up? Know a presenter who would be compelling in front of this group of education innovators? Think your company might be willing to pitch in and sponsor an event or a series? Want to give your time and talents?

Send Grant or I a message, and let’s get started!

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).

strategiesforproblemsolving

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.