Category Archives: Higher Education

Contemporary Challenges to the System (Part I)

Higher education is increasingly faced with challenges that are not easily surmounted. These are contemporary challenges with no simple answers or quick solutions. While the list below could be ten times longer based on who you talk to, several contemporary challenges include, in no particular order:

a) Increase in Title IX incidents
b) Rise in student debt
c) Decline in federal and state support for instruction
d) Rise in tuition, room/board, and fees
e) Competition for market share of decreasing high school graduates
f) Change in student profile from traditional to non-traditional students
g) Pressure to increase retention and completion
h) Shortage of classroom space and human capital to handle higher enrollments
i) Decrease in tenure track positions and continued rise in adjunct model of teaching
j) Increase in number of students needing developmental education
k) Challenges associated with serving a growing international population
l) Pressure to prepare graduates to work in the era of globalization
m) Increase in plagiarism among students and faculty
n) Pressure to align programs, certificates, degrees with industry needs
o) Pressure to increase college educated workforce to 60 percent
p) Role of MOOCs and its resistance to commodification
q) Growth of for-profit higher education sector
r) Increase in accountability by Higher Learning Commission and DOE
s) Question about the return on investment of a college degree
t) Increase in scrutiny by the media on how public dollars are spent
u) Demand on resources created by ongoing technology upgrades
v) Challenge to provide increased security on campuses
w) Impact of Affordable Health Care Act on budgets
x) Looming retirements of administrative and academic leadership
y) Aging facilities and infrastructure on campuses
z) Fill in the blank ___________________________

Again, this list is far from complete. Most of the challenges identified are from the perspective of what might keep higher education leaders awake at night. We could list an entirely different data set by spending time in the trenches, where we would discover additional challenges with campus infrastructure, student behavior, and personnel that would make our heads spin. Or we could conduct an inquiry with faculty and the list would grow even more. Garnering the student perspective would reveal unique challenges that we never knew existed, and let us not forget to include the challenges seen by the external community partners. The list of contemporary challenges would grow exponentially. Furthermore, these challenges are escalating, and creating pressure on a higher education system that was not initially designed with them in mind. These challenges need to be resolved or they will remain an ongoing distraction that pulls and pushes the educational economic, and civic mission of higher education off course, or simply prevents it from maturing. Where do we go from here? Part II will focus on solutions.

Complex Challenge/Collaboration=Solution

At the recent SOCHE Fellows forum, a year-long program designed for emerging academic leaders, it was no surprise that collaboration emerged as a main theme, as well as the subtext, in several discussions. It emerged as a desired outcomes needed right now to address the myriad of contemporary challenges facing higher education; challenges to a higher ed system that was not created with these challenges in mind, nor the intrinsic wisdom and collaborative culture to address them. Fortunately, such complex challenges that require systemic change, ultimately, can be solved through future-oriented collaborative thinking. Simply put, the equation looks like: complex challenge/collaboration=solution (x/y=z).

pictured: SOCHE Fellows working together
to come untangled as part of an exercise
on Difficult and Crucial Conversations.

CI: Beyond Higher Ed’s Origin of Silos

Whenever I talk about SOCHE, people are repeatedly fascinated that an organization exists to purposely facilitate, find, and forge collaboration. Whether I’m at TED Global, Harvard Kennedy School, Valencia College, riding the Metro, or striking up a conversation in the local supermarket, people recognize that collaboration is the critical ingredient missing in many different settings. At a recent event, it was noted that academic silos serve as the antithesis to collaborative thinking. For good reason, the silo structure and culture were created to engender deep, focused research and scholarship. However, a closed system as such can evolve only so far before it becomes desperate for change or, worse off, headed down a path of exhaustion. As much as higher education has improved efforts in campus-community partnerships, where can you find on campus the nucleus for intra-collaboration, the resourced collaborative infrastructure (CI) that facilitates, finds, and forges collaboration internally?  It seems too obvious that each campus needs a SOCHElike office, embedded within the campus operation to ensure academia is truly a learning system that evolves itself beyond its origin of silos.

The Entrepreneurial University

To shape and sustain its future, higher education must become deliberate about establishing new connections, building new partnerships, and evolving itself into a collaborative enterprise.

Many creative examples can be found in the publication The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University. As you will read, the Entrepreneurial University takes a pro-active stance in turning knowledge and student into economic generation. Students are not only becoming the prepared professionals in  scientific disciplines, business, culture, but they are also encouraged and trained to become entrepreneurs and firm founders, contributing to economic growth and job creation.

Rather than only serving as a source of new ideas for existing firms, universities are combining their research and teaching capabilities in new formats to become a source of new business and technology development.

entrepreneurialWhile not every campus is in a position to create new enterprises, at a minimum, strengthening an campus’s innovative, entrepreneurial, and/or collaborative foundation will increase its  value proposition.

Simply, a campus that builds a culture of innovation and collaboration will, consequently, catalyze solutions to pressing contemporary–educational, economic, and societal–challenges.


UD-GE Aviation Partnership as Leadership

The formal partnership between the University of Dayton and GE Aviation is a major collaborative practice and example of visionary leadership. As a result, GE Aviation built a $54 million research-and-development center on UD’s campus, creating space and opportunity for faculty and students researchers to work together with GE Aviation scientists and engineers on developing new advanced technologies. Further, the partnership created a talent pipeline from UD directly into GE Aviation and its core industries, beginning with internships and co-ops, and, ultimately will lead to full-time employment of UD graduates. These are initial good results, yet the longterm benefits will be transformative for both entities.

Creating this particular university-industry partnership requires mature, collaborative thinking. Hence, UD’s and GE Aviation’s leadership needs to be studied deeply, as this type of higher collaboration is the future.


Synergistic Collaboration

Synergy is a key indicator for measuring effective and ineffective collaboration. This indicator emerged in my research that contributed to the scholarship on community partners. The research deepened our understanding of what community partners look for and expect in successful civic partnerships with higher education. The “effective” and “ineffective” descriptors provide helpful, measurable criteria to keep in mind when establishing, monitoring, and evaluating a collaborative partnership.


  • Acknowledges that both partners are better off working together than separately, creating a mutuality that results in higher productivity and progress toward desired outcomes
  • Recognizes the community partner adds value to student education by providing practical experience and that students receive real-world lessons in servant leadership
  • Demonstrates that faculty gain more experience in the areas of practice and direct service
  • Creates feeling of pleasure from collaboration
  • Produces happiness with results of the partnership
  • Believes parties’ constituencies mutually benefit from the relationship


  • Permits patronizing attitude toward community partner on the part of faculty and administrators
  • Exhibits academic arrogance on part of tenured faculty who are disconnected from direct-service providers
  • Views practice as inferior to theory
  • Places students in the awkward situation of brokering the relationship between faculty and community partner, making them the glue that holds the partnership together

Many other descriptors could be added to this initial list, but it does give us a place to start when entering into collaboration. The full list of indicators can be found at Community Partners Indicators of Engagement: An Action Research Study on Campus-Community Partnership.

Acts of Collaboration are Not Accidental

Acts of Collaboration happen all the time, but they are not accidental. Today, SOCHE and its college and university members teamed up with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as part of the Talent Pipeline Initiative to host the first ever Wright-Patterson Internship Fair. This collaborative effort brought more than 800 students to the National Museum of the US Air Force to meet with employers on base and off base from aerospace and defense. There is no shortage of young, passionate talent in southwest Ohio and collaborative efforts like today are bridging college students with industry in new and productive ways. Cheers to everyone involved!


Bridging the Economic and Civic Missions

Are the competencies sought by employers similar to those needed for citizens to protect and lead American democracy? Tuft University’s models of student civic learning outcomes include the following competencies: comprehension, analysis, synthesis, planning, communication, cultural competency, leadership, and evaluation. While SOCHE’s Civic Measures are:deliberation, advocacy, consensus building, awareness, voice, and critical reflection. Aren’t both of these sets the qualities you look for and find in your most talented working professionals? That is part of the question…a question being wrestled with today. I had the opportunity to participate in the launch of a national conversation on this subject held in our nation’s capital on January 21 hosted by the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) and several key partners. This conversation responded to concerns voiced by thousands of citizens in more than 160 local forums in which participants deliberated on how higher education maintains a rich, holistic, liberal education while, at the same time, meets growing demands for specific skillsets in our graduates by employers. The topic is ripe for discussion and NIFI has provided an issue guidebook to get us started: The Changing World of Work: What Should We Ask of Higher Education? You can also watch a recording of the January 21 event to hear what higher education, business, and government perspectives shared at the launch: Live Stream Video.

As for SOCHE’s position, we believe through deliberative conversations our region’s 120,000 students will develop the knowledge and skills that strengthen American democracy, as well as make valuable professionals for the creative economy. Hence, we will continue to partner with our members to host issue forums in the future. In the meantime, think about this last question: how best do our campuses bridge their economic and civic missions into one enriched, comprehensive education for Ohioans?

Higher Collaboration

Higher Collaboration is the title of a book I am currently working on with my colleague Ty Buckman. The table of contents are emerging along these lines:

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Brief history of collaboration
  3. Contemporary challenges to higher education
  4. Collaboration as THE strategic future
  5. Common practices
  6. Unique possibilities
  7. Pipedream solutions
  8. Collaborative ROI
  9. Parochial obstacle
  10. Getting to higher collaboration through Leadership
  11. Conclusion

Stay tuned for snippets in the coming months. In meantime, send examples of practices you’ve seen work or not work in higher ed.

Creative Class (old posts)

This seems like a good place to capture a few old blog posts I (and also David Miler) wrote for Richard Florida’s Creative Class Group back in 2009-10 during the height of the great recession, which is evident in a few of them in terms of the focus of the content. While the thoughts held relevance then, they still do today as higher ed continues to ponder how to innovate its way into the future. If only higher ed would spend more time pondering how to collaborate its way into the future, because the future is highly dependent on employing deliberative collaborative thinking.