Future U Podcast

The Post-Pandemic University

Episode Summary

With daily signs of momentum in the effort to vaccinate U.S. adults, college leaders are beginning to plan for a new normal in higher ed after the pandemic. The president of Georgia State University, which has been a leader in the student success movement, joins Future U to talk about what institutions need to do to improve the student experience in the decade ahead.

Episode Notes

With daily signs of momentum in the effort to vaccinate U.S. adults, college leaders are beginning to plan for a new normal in higher ed after the pandemic. The president of Georgia State University, which has been a leader in the student success movement, joins Future U to talk about what institutions need to do to improve the student experience in the decade ahead. 

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Episode Transcription

Michael Horn:

Hey, Jeff, you know Tomorrowland, at Disney World?

 

Jeff Selingo:

I sure do, right? Space Fountain, and all of that. Why do you ask?

 

Michael Horn:

Well, much like Tomorrowland tries to show what the future might bring, everyone in higher ed right now seems to be talking about what the campus of tomorrow will look like after this pandemic subsides.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. Well, it's a good thing that we've got Mark Becker, the outgoing president of Georgia State, on today's show. Because under his leadership, Georgia State has been a leader in innovating and using technology and data to transform its school for over a decade now.

 

Michael Horn:

Jeff, Mark Becker became president of Georgia State University in the throes of the Great Recession in 2009.

 

Michael Horn:

A first generation college student himself, he led the university to make significant investments in support systems and data tools, among other initiatives, to better serve students of all backgrounds. Under his leadership, Georgia State has boosted graduation rates by an astounding 22 percentage points.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, Michael, not only that, but Georgia State is also a leading public institution in the country, in graduating black students, all while investing significantly in research and developing a global profile, right? It's a really remarkable success story, in what's really been a challenging decade for higher education.

 

Jeff Selingo:

As a leader in the University Innovation Alliance, whose director, Bridget Burns, we had on the show in the very early days of Future U, Mark and Georgia State have a bead on what's likely next for higher education, as well as public higher education institutions, as we come out of this recession and this pandemic. So with that as a backdrop, we're really delighted to have Mark on the show today.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Georgia State was a relatively obscure public university when you arrived in 2009, Mark. Now, as you get ready to leave the university seen as a national leader, right, and an example of a student-centered institution, committed to student success. But whenever I talk with college officials elsewhere about their own student success efforts, and George's state's name inevitably comes up in those conversations, they always say things like, "Oh, Georgia State, we can never be them," or, "They're in a league of their own," or, "They've been doing this forever."

 

Jeff Selingo:

But I don't think that's actually the case, right? Is achieving what you've achieved at Georgia State is difficult as people make it out to be?

 

Mark Becker:

No, not at all. It does require you be intentional as an institution. This kind of results, this kind of change doesn't happen by accident. It requires organizational change, it requires certain organizational structure. So I would say, at the top, that having an individual who wakes up in the morning and goes to bed the night, thinking about the success of students, is absolutely essential.

 

Mark Becker:

At Georgia State, that person's been Tim Renick. Tim is really the leader of this work for Georgia State, and having that kind of focus, contrary to what many institutions try to do, is make this one of multiple responsibilities of a provost. You're not going to get this kind of results if you have some person having this as a small slice of a very large portfolio.

 

Mark Becker:

Second, you have to have the right mindset. When we did that, was set out at Georgia State, it wasn't, "We're going to try this. It is, we are going to do this." And so, you have to set yourself up for success. You need to imagine success, and not spend your time thinking about failure, because that's one of the challenges in higher ed.

 

Mark Becker:

When you try to have change, you have all these intelligent people that will explain to you why you can't do something, and you're not going to get there spending, focusing on what failure looks like. So you really need to be able to visualize what success looks like, and then have a disciplined approach to getting success.

 

Michael Horn:

That obviously speaks to a lot of the leadership mindset, culture that you establish. You're also obviously trained as a statistician, so ...

 

Mark Becker:

Right.

 

Michael Horn:

How much of data played a central role to what you've been able to do at Georgia State, and in particular, at many other institutions that Jeff and I get to talk to, it seems that different schools, the business school, the arts and sciences, engineering school, they each use their own streams of data to, in effect, create their own narratives.

 

Michael Horn:

But not only has data played a central role at Georgia State, it seems fair to say that having a centralized data system itself has also been critical. Is that a fair reading, and how critical is that centralized data strategy to an institution's success?

 

Mark Becker:

Yeah, it's more than fair, it's absolutely correct. The university built a data warehouse, back around 2009, 2010, because if you don't have the data and you don't have the information, you're not going to actually know what's working, what's not working.

 

Mark Becker:

There has to be those data, there has to be that accountability. So the data are absolutely central, and everything we do always comes back to the data, because at the end of the day, student success is fairly straightforward.

 

Mark Becker:

Do students graduate or not, time to degree, academic performance, et cetera, but it's all in the data. And if you're going to have to make the case for change, for faculty in particular, the easiest way to have that conversation is to present the facts, rather than focusing on folklore myth, tradition or histories, these are the facts.

 

Jeff Selingo:

It seems like the thing we're struggling with as a nation right now, right? To come up with a common set of facts around things. So, Mark, last summer, you participated with me, Deloitte and Strada, on a series of convenings that we had around the future of higher ed post-COVID.

 

Jeff Selingo:

One result of that was a paper that Deloitte and Strada just released on the idea of a hybrid university. What was clear in our research is that many institutions think of hybrid, like they do most things related to technology, a specific tool, as in a hybrid course, rather than as a way of deploying technology, to make the student experience more seamless.

 

Jeff Selingo:

How do you think institutional transformation can be enabled by digital technologies? Do you think that higher ed is on the cusp of transforming, if we think differently about a certain process, or a way of doing business within our universities?

 

Mark Becker:

That's exactly it, Jeff, you've nailed it is, technology is a tool, okay? And it's a tool that allows you to either do what you've been doing better or more efficiently. Or it's a tool to allow you to do things you've never been able to do before.

 

Mark Becker:

You have to look at the technologies as a set of tools, and how they integrate into your environment, into your institution. How do you make your faculty more effective, more productive? How do you make your students more effective, more productive? How do you make your staff more effective, more productive?

 

Mark Becker:

One of our early successes was in the advising space. Our early work with EAB has been written about a lot. That was having a data warehouse, and having the predictive analytics systems and various debt dashboards, et cetera, and alerts. You have to be able to use the technology, but at the end of the day, it's how people use it.

 

Mark Becker:

One of the big mistakes that gets made in higher ed is, people buy a technology and use it to do what they were doing before. I'm old enough to remember when word processors became came out. Now, we think about Microsoft Word, and the idea was, "Well, we're going to still have secretaries, and we're still do the way we always did it."

 

Mark Becker:

When I got out of grad school, you took your paper to a secretary, they typed it up for you. You marked it up with a pen or pencil, and handed it back, and went back and forth and back and forth.

 

Mark Becker:

And I was on that generation that started writing their own papers at their computers. And we don't even talk about secretaries in academic departments anymore, or certainly, at least the ones I'm familiar with.

 

Jeff Selingo:

So yeah, obviously, a big change there, in mindset around the use of technology. But the other big change in mindset, obviously with COVID, is that it's been a useful pilot for the hybrid campus. I think the question, though, is how can college presidents keep that momentum going, and resist returning to the old processes that were in play, before COVID hit?

 

Mark Becker:

Yeah. From my mindset, it's not a pilot, just an accelerator. We were heading in this direction anyway. There's no secret that demographically, the number of 18-year-olds coming out of high schools is going to go over a cliff in about five years.

 

Mark Becker:

Every president in the country knows that a lot of change is coming. They don't know how to get there. Well, the pandemic forced us to, at least, to your point, I guess we'll say, we pilot, experiment with certain technologies and how to use them.

 

Mark Becker:

But at the end of the day, on the other side of this pandemic, there's no going back. The institutions that do think about going back better have a value proposition that is so distinctive and attractive, that that's going to lead to long term survival.

 

Mark Becker:

Because for most of us, we have to look to the forward, to the future and be, as we look out there, we're seeing, we're going to have a more heterogeneous student body. We're going to have more adult learners. We're going to have fewer 18- to 22-year-olds.

 

Mark Becker:

We're going to have people coming at us with a different set of expectations, whether they're working adults who are pursuing a degree, they're now used to working differently. The students coming to the university are going to be used to working differently, so their expectations are going to be different.

 

Mark Becker:

If we're going to be successful, we have to meet them where they are, and where they like to be. That's not going to be what it was in 2019.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. It's such an important set of points. Obviously, one of the big differences that you all have deployed, as you've started to support the advising function, and student supports, and so forth, is you were one of the first universities to put chat bots in place, at first, to reduce [inaudible 00:10:07], and since then, throughout all of your student success efforts.

 

Jeff Selingo:

You're about to use it in an academic course, to start answering student questions. Until now, your student success efforts were largely focused on using data and people. I'd love you to reflect on, why the transition to AI?

 

Jeff Selingo:

Does that give you the mechanism, if you will, to scale these supports, and support students at scale? Also, though, I'd love you to reflect about how do you mitigate the worries that come with the use of AI, because obviously a lot of folks in higher ed have some deep concerns.

 

Mark Becker:

Sure. So there's a lot in there. So I'll go back to an accelerator.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah.

 

Mark Becker:

We were having these conversations and heading in this direction before the pandemic. So when you look at our first deployment of chat bots, AI, that was all about getting students from application, to enrollment and matriculating, okay? It was around being able to provide nudges and information to students, when they were needed to have it, and it gave them a platform in which they could ask questions, and we could respond with answers.

 

Mark Becker:

What's important about the platform is, first off, the bot answers over 80% of the questions, and it does it in less than eight seconds. Okay? So you're not calling an office, and getting put on hold, you're not sending an e-mail. You're literally sending a text message, and less than eight seconds later, eight out of 10 of the questions are answered. Humans have to come in on the back end for those that the bot can't answer.

 

Mark Becker:

Second, the bot doesn't go to bed, it doesn't take weekends off, and it doesn't have bad days. So the bots, they're 24/7, 365 days a year. We don't staff our offices 24/7, 365 days a year. So that was where we were. As we look to the future, we're not too proud to steal good ideas.

 

Mark Becker:

One idea that was developed, deployed just a few miles from here, is Jill Watson, the artificially intelligent teaching assistant at Georgia Tech, in their computer science program. But it's a great TED Talk, you can go online and find it.

 

Mark Becker:

Well, Jill Watson is not just an experiment, but Joel Watson is a model, again, that provides a very student responsive way of providing information, particularly in courses where the same questions, or the same types of questions get asked again and again, within a semester, semester to semester, year after year.

 

Mark Becker:

Because what's behind AI is, you have to have a data set. You have to have a data set that is large and robust, rich, so that it covers a lot of questions and has accurate information to the answers. I mean, the bots have to be trained, and they have to be supervised, to become effective. And you can find all that in the TED Talk about Jill Watson.

 

Mark Becker:

The point is, AI is just on the cusp in higher ed. We're going to see a lot more applications of AI, particularly in this space of answering student questions, whether specific to an academic course, whether it's financial aid, whether it's career services, whether it's admissions.

 

Mark Becker:

Any question that gets asked time and time again is going to be amenable to this platform, these bots. This is our Industrial Revolution in higher ed, if you will, the idea that the routine is going to be done by machines.

 

Mark Becker:

The unique, the relational is going to be done by human beings. And the idea is not to replace human beings, but as rather to focus human time and talent where it is most impactful and most effective, and the things that are routine or repetitive, let the bot do it.

 

Mark Becker:

Now, to the question of your concerns is, the bot, if we're not careful, and it's trained on a data set that's not relevant to your student population, may not give the answers that are appropriate, and could very well have implicit bias in it. You do need to be very careful about the data sets that you use to train your bot, and deploy the bot.

 

Mark Becker:

For example, in some of the bots work we've done here, we want to use our own data to train the algorithms, rather than a data set developed by a developer in another space, in another part of the higher ed universe.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Industrial Revolution, Mark, wow, it's going to be interesting to see where this all goes. And Mark, Georgia State has really moved the needle on student success.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Now, COVID has really interrupted the plans of many students, put a lot of stress on the system, as a whole, as we can see, from enrollment trends around the country, from application trends, from low income and first generation students. Are you at all worried about backsliding? What worries you most, coming out of the pandemic, when it comes to student success?

 

Mark Becker:

Yeah, so there's two pieces. One is that the pandemic has had differential impacts in different parts of the economic spectrum. So we have students who have the financial resources, have the technology resources, the supports from family and others, that they're excelling, they're continuing to do what they do. They may not be enjoying it, but they're continuing to go forward.

 

Mark Becker:

We have other students, and I'm going all the way back to kindergarten. I'm not just talking about college students, I'm talking about students writ large, who are literally getting left behind. We saw this fall, for example, at Georgia State, in our freshmen. A non-trivial percentage of the freshmen class just did not make the adjustment well to college, and a purely online world.

 

Mark Becker:

Right now, in the most immediate moment, we're developing a set of programs, interventions to support those students, and get them back on track, get their GPAs back up, continue to progress towards graduation, keep them in the university, and get them to the desired result, which is, their education, their degree. That's the immediate part.

 

Mark Becker:

But that's going to trickle through, for that group of students, for the next, say four, four or five years. But there's another dozen year students behind them who have been impacted adversely by this. So I'm worried about the tales of this all the way back through the earliest years of education.

 

Mark Becker:

And then, secondarily, I'm worried about, the pandemic is exacerbating income disparities, income qualities. For the student success base, if we're not attuned to that, and developing programs to help those who are most hurt by the pandemic, we are going to see a backsliding in terms of the numbers, et cetera.

 

Mark Becker:

So big focus there, on taking care of the students who are disadvantaged by the pandemic today. But we expect that to percolate through, for probably a decade or more, maybe two decades.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. I think what's interesting, Mark, is that you get a lot of your students, a huge percentage of your students from Atlanta Public Schools. And I was reading recently that, like in many big cities, there's a huge percentage of students just not showing up to online courses at all.

 

Mark Becker:

Yeah, so that's one of the things where technology helps us. So we've got a learning management system, and we can track, in our data set, that students have tracked, logged into the content management system, learning management system, and how long they're engaging with the material, et cetera, so this is another example.

 

Mark Becker:

You're not going to have professors calling up every student, "Did you do the reading? How much time did you spend doing the reading?" But in this environment, we're able to at least have good proxies to tracking some of that information.

 

Mark Becker:

Another example where we couldn't have done this 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago. This is a case where, again, technology put to appropriate uses is going to help those who are least advantaged.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. So Mark, I want to end on a somewhat lighter note. I think most people think college presidents are just boring individuals, who just work all day, and who knows what they do in their free time?

 

Jeff Selingo:

But you're an avid mountain climber in your free time. Just curious about how that started. What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? And I just have to ask for a comparison about climbing a mountain, and leading an institution, because there seems to be something there.

 

Mark Becker:

Yeah. So I came to mountain climbing late in life, about seven, eight years ago. And it all goes back to when I was a post-doc at the University of Washington, back in 1987, '89. There's this thing called Mount Rainier that stands out there over the city of Seattle.

 

Mark Becker:

Back then, I didn't have the resources, financial resources, to hire a guide and climb it. And I'm not experienced, so I can't do it myself. And I always said to myself, "One day, I'm going to do that." And well, seven, eight years ago, I'm sitting in a meeting and realized that I wasn't getting any younger.

 

Mark Becker:

So I did what modern people did. I pulled out my phone, went into Google, and Googled "Mount Rainier guides," and found one, called them up, and booked the climb, and went and did it and got hooked, so, took on some bigger, more challenging mountains.

 

Mark Becker:

I'd say my biggest, most gratifying accomplishment is Alpamayo, which is in the Cordillera Blanca range in Peru, absolutely stunningly gorgeous mountain, and the high camp for that is at 18,000 feet, the mountain is just shy of 20,000 feet.

 

Mark Becker:

The last few hundred, few thousand feet, the last hour or two of climbing is [inaudible 00:19:13] ice climbing. You're on all fours, climbing a steep IPC ramp up to the top, and that was a great accomplishment, a great challenge, and one that I enjoyed a lot.

 

Mark Becker:

How's that compare to being a president, or leading an institution? To start with, you have to have the right mindset, "I'm going to go do this." It's not, "I might do this." So success is the outcome that you're after.

 

Mark Becker:

You have to have a plan, you have to prepare, you need to do your research. And then, you need to do your training. So you need to be completely attuned to everything that you need to be able to do to have success. It doesn't just happen by random, or by accident.

 

Mark Becker:

Then you have to put in the work, that's all there is to it, and you have to stay focused. Certainly, when you're at high altitude, climbing a steep, icy mountain, there's no room for mistakes. So you're taking risks, but these are calculated risks.

 

Mark Becker:

That's the same thing, leading an institution. It would be honest to say that we've taken some risks at Georgia State, but they've always been calculated risks. We're never reckless, and you would never be reckless in the mountains, because those who are die.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Well, Mark, I think you and your team have definitely put the institution on the map more than once over your tenure there. We wish you the best in what you end up doing next.

 

Jeff Selingo:

I can't believe that we've been doing, what, 70, 80 episodes, Michael? And this is the first time we've had somebody from, I think, from Georgia State on the podcast.

 

Michael Horn:

Yeah, a big miss on our part, but glad we got it rectified before you stepped down.

 

Mark Becker:

Yeah.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah.

 

Mark Becker:

Well, I'll be around into the summer, and I'm just going to stay engaged with higher ed, and the future of hiring, the kind of things we're talking about, for years to come. So I appreciate the opportunity.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Great. Well, thanks for having thanks for being here, and we're going to be right back on Future U.

 

Announcer:

This episode of Future U is brought to you by Deloitte Center for Higher Education Excellence. The center focuses on groundbreaking research to help colleges and universities navigate the challenges they face, and reimagine how they achieve excellence in every aspect of the future college campus, teaching, learning, and research. Through forums and immersive lab sessions, the center engages the higher education community collaboratively on a transformative journey, exploring critical topics, overcoming constraints, and expanding the art of the possible.

 

Michael Horn:

Welcome back to Future U off our interview with Mark Becker, and Jeff, he seems to be leaning in, completely into this hybrid campus model. I mean, he, he talked about how institutions that don't do this better have a very good and differentiated value proposition, but for most folks, this is the way to go.

 

Michael Horn:

What's interesting is, you just finished writing that paper on the hybrid campus model, and Georgia State, interestingly enough, seems like a place that could return to what it had before, given all the innovation that, that they had done. But I'm just sort of curious, your take on Georgia State, against that landscape, institutions in general.

 

Michael Horn:

But also, we got a listener question, and we're trying to do better about making sure we answer those questions. This question was, "What will the physical campus itself look like in the future, off of COVID?" So I'd love your reflections around both the questions of the hybrid campus, Georgia State, against that landscape, and then the physical space itself.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. I think, Michael, really what I see Becker talking about during that interview, was this idea they've been really well-connected with the data, trying to figure out why things aren't working, backing it up with data, doing small experiments to try to change the trajectory of things.

 

Jeff Selingo:

When those experiments worked, they would scale them up. That's really been the playbook at Georgia State for the last, essentially the last decade. And what I think he's found in this pandemic, and Georgia State has found in general, in this pandemic, is that some of those things continue to work in the pandemic, and that you could scale up technology even more to make the campus more of a hybrid.

 

Jeff Selingo:

For example, there was something that he didn't mention, but Tim Renick, who is associate provost there around student success, told me a couple of months ago about their financial aid advising, for example, which would really require folks calling in to a call center. It was a phone tree, a classic call center.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Well, now, those people couldn't work together during the pandemic. So now there's a ticket system, where students fill out the information online, and they call them back.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Well, they've actually become more efficient, because now they know what the questions are, in advance of somebody calling in, and they become much more efficient at that. Again, this is something where maybe even a chat bot could help out with a lot more.

 

Jeff Selingo:

They're starting to see, even during the pandemic, there are ways of experimenting, in many cases, being forced by the pandemic to experiment, solving problems that, in this case, they didn't even know it was a problem. And now, expanding upon that, right, and scaling the solutions to that.

 

Jeff Selingo:

To me, that's really why I think the hybrid campus is potentially a revolutionary change coming out of this pandemic. Because so many other institutions, just like Georgia State, were forced to experiment. And it just seems impossible for me that they're going to go back as, as a result, but it requires them to change their processes.

 

Jeff Selingo:

That was something that he talked a little bit about in the interview, right? That technology is a great servant, but a terrible master, that you need to change your processes to match. I guess, given all that you've seen in higher ed, are you convinced that they may actually do that?

 

Michael Horn:

Yeah, it's a great question, Jeff. And just a reflection on it, which is that I think a lot of times people say, the technology is a great servant, but a terrible master, and then, they let the technology still run what they do.

 

Michael Horn:

My second reflection is that in some ways, what he said seems paradoxical, like needing to change processes to match the technology? Awfully sounds like "technology is the servant."

 

Michael Horn:

But my reflection is, because a place like Georgia State is so clear on the outcomes they want to get, their priorities are so clear across the campus, not just in one school, but literally across the enterprise. And then they say, "Okay, if we're going to take in a new technology, to shove it in the old process is probably not going to get us the bang for the buck that we want. So we are going to intentionally change our process to match this new technology, to turbocharge what we're doing, to get these student success outcomes, and these equitable outcomes across the board."

 

Michael Horn:

That's what I think is so powerful about it is, a lot of people, I think, will just say, "Oh, the tech guy said we have to do things this way now," right? They're changing the process, but now technology is the master. Or they don't change the process, and you get this horrible grinding of a technology that's not fit for the old thing that you're doing.

 

Michael Horn:

I loved his analogy on the Microsoft Word, and secretaries used to write it for you. Then that no longer made sense. But what's so, I think, powerful to take away from this is, know your priorities, know the outcomes that you're trying to get right out of this.

 

Michael Horn:

Jeff, from my perspective, I found it powerful that as he continues to think about student success, he's not just thinking about the seniors in high school or first years at Georgia State right now. He's thinking all the way down to kindergarten.

 

Michael Horn:

I mean, that's quite a statement. What are your reflections about how leaders ought to be thinking about student success, coming out of this?

 

Jeff Selingo:

Well, and I think that Georgia State, like most colleges, they're judged by their latest outcome measures. I think he's seen, we've been able to move the needle on student success over the last 10-15 years, 10 years in particular. What's going to stop us from that, going forward, and it really, largely, I think, is going to be the pandemic, at least in the short term, the fact that you have a large percentage of Atlanta city school children, for example, not going to school, not showing up for distance learning, right?

 

Jeff Selingo:

Those are future students at Georgia State, particularly since they enroll a large number of students just from their own backyard. The only way that they're going to be able to move their numbers is to move the numbers in K-12. And I think that he clearly sees the clear connection between those two things.

 

Jeff Selingo:

This is going to really require, and hopefully we'll get to talk about this again, on a future episode, I think this is going to require institutions of all kinds and all sizes to rethink their student success efforts, which, some have described were autopilot before the pandemic. Now you're going have to jump start them after the pandemic, particularly for those students.

 

Jeff Selingo:

We really should dive into learning loss, and how real is it, how deep is it, going forward? Because these are all the future students for higher education. But it's interesting. Mark is retiring from Georgia State, who knows what he's going to be doing next?

 

Jeff Selingo:

He might be doing more mountain climbing, as we talked about at the very end there, I love that mountain climbing comparison to being a university president, Michael. I don't know if you had any thoughts on that.

 

Michael Horn:

Yeah. The only thing I would say is that the mountains keep getting higher, right? There's actually probably never a descent, as I was thinking about him describing those climbs, and the level of achievement, but also the peace that he gets from having accomplished it.

 

Michael Horn:

My only reflection was, "Yeah, there's probably a couple days of a lull, when you're a university president, and then you just jump to the next to the next peak, if you will." So it keeps on coming, Jeff sort of like how we've been monitoring the waves of this pandemic, and so forth.

 

Michael Horn:

But off that great conversation, before we end and wrap up this episode, we're going to take a short break, and then we're going to come right back with a conversation with our sponsor from this episode, the Deloitte Center for Higher Education Excellence.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Welcome back to Future U. I Welcome Cole Clark, Managing Director of Higher Education at Deloitte, and co-author of a paper that we referenced during this episode on the hybrid university. Cole, welcome to the show.

 

Michael Horn:

Terrific to be with you, Jeff.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Cole, we just had Mark Becker on talking about the hybrid university. As a coauthor of the paper, how do you think colleges and universities, the listeners out there that are in a position, whether they're trustees, board members, in other ways, or college leaders, how do you think they could think about putting this in place? What are the factors to actually succeeding at the hybrid university?

 

Cole Clark:

Well, we certainly get into this in some level of detail in the paper, but I think there are five that I'd like to touch on here.

 

Cole Clark:

One would be leadership. I think that is critical, given the nature of the way that most higher education decision-making and authority structures are set up, having strong and visionary leadership from the president, his or her directs, both in the academic, as well as in the administrative ranks, and frankly, on the Board of Trustees or Board of Visitors, really driving this agenda, and being aligned on what it's going to take, both from a resource perspective, as well as from a change management perspective.

 

Cole Clark:

Secondarily, I think that as these new systems are designed to drive forward the notion of the hybrid campus, everything has to be about putting the student at the center. That thinking about how these new models are going to impact the administration, or the alumni, the student has to be, it has to be at the forefront.

 

Cole Clark:

I know something that Mark has really focused on, and fixated on, is the use of technology as a tool, and data as a tool. I think that's super important. I think these systems are super critical, in being helpful in showing what things are working, and frankly, what things are not working, and being able to make decisions much more quickly, and more and more nimbly.

 

Cole Clark:

I think having a rethinking of the financial models that drive the incentives on campus are critical here, too. Financial models, business models, budget models at universities often don't incentivize a lot of change. I think you have to have those incentives in place, in order to get the kind of traction that you need, in order to make these changes occur.

 

Cole Clark:

And last but not least, I think, communication, which really goes back to leadership, and constantly communicating to your broad set of constituents, whether they're the students on campus, your employees, your alums, the community members in the local town or city that you're located in, are all super critical to get a broad set of stakeholders on board, and getting them behind the change.

 

Jeff Selingo:

So Cole, during the convenings last summer with the college and university leaders we had on the New Era Forum, which we called This Gathering, often, it came up with this idea about core versus context, right? That there are few activities that institution does that really creates like the true differentiation, the core of the university.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Then there's everything else, of course, that we know universities need to do to actually run a campus. Can you talk about that, in light of the hybrid university? How should universities think about this core versus context?

 

Cole Clark:

Well, the human resources on campus are precious, and they need to be focused on those things that are core to the mission of the university, teaching, learning, and research. But there's a whole range of other activities that go on, that if those are done poorly, or they fall apart, or they fail, they have a direct impact on the ability to fulfill the mission.

 

Cole Clark:

Just because they're part of that context bucket, doesn't mean that they're not super critical, and that they don't need to be carefully thought through. I think, though, that there are many things in that category that can be done at scale, either through harnessing the economies of scale of a university system, and doing them centrally, or thinking about co-sourcing from external entities that do this at scale across multiple institutions, multiple states, and can drive economies in that model.

 

Cole Clark:

A lot of things have crept back into, and have been in-sourced in institutions, things like dining and housing, and parking and information technology, that could potentially be done, again, much more efficiently. And frankly, even with better quality, if we go back to this revisiting of what's core versus context.

 

Jeff Selingo:

The hybrid university really wasn't intended for any particular part of the higher education ecosystem, as we think about it, the different segments of higher ed. But is there one in particular, is there a sector of the higher education system writ large, that the hybrid university could be really thought of as appealing and thinking about the future?

 

Cole Clark:

Well, I certainly don't want to give off signals that I don't think there's value here for all walks of higher ed life. I think there are roles among the AAU and the RIs to be leaders, and demonstrating what is possible. But I think, in terms of who benefits the most in the short run, I think it's our local, and particularly our two-year institutions, the community colleges and the community college systems, that frankly have had a hard time achieving some of the objectives that are laid out in the paper, because they've been underfunded.

 

Cole Clark:

They rely on tuition and on local appropriations for most of their operating revenues. They've taken on a lot of debt, I don't mean debt, in the literal sense, but debt in terms of deferred maintenance and technical debt.

 

Cole Clark:

Yet they're going to be the ones that we rely on, as a nation, to really help us jump back into the employment game, and get our people re-skilled and re-employed, and frankly, continue that re-skilling and employment engine for the foreseeable future. So I would say they are the most likely candidates to adopt some of this in the short run, for short run benefit.

 

Jeff Selingo:

Cole, thank you so much for joining us on Future U today.

 

Cole Clark:

As always, Jeff, it's great to be with you.

 

Jeff Selingo:

And that does it for this episode of Future U. Thank you for listening, and look forward to you joining us on the next episode.