E-Notes: On What If?, Making It Better, and Success and Growth Through Turbulence

You may remember the ikigai Venn diagram by Dan Pink shared in my first blog post. The overlapping circles are 1) What You Love to Do, 2) What You’re Good At, 3) What You Can Be Paid For, and 4) What the World Needs. I worked out a draft of my own ikigai and one of the key elements was “thinking beyond ‘We’ve always done it that way’ to ‘What if?’” (If you want to see the latest draft of my ikigai brainstorm, it is posted on my LinkedIn profile in the About Me section)

I’m pretty sure my 4th grade teacher didn’t appreciate this key element of mine. It was a very rough year. Sadly the few memories I have involve her telling me that I didn’t follow the directions properly or that I could not be creative/do something a little differently on an assignment or project.

Thankfully the next year, I met two of my all-time favorite and most influential teachers, Mrs. Cummings, my 5th grade teacher, and Mr. Cox, one of my band teachers who I luckily had for several years. These two teachers supported my pursuit of creative thinking and of questioning the way things have always been done, and challenged me to put in the work to do great things.

It is with this lens of “What If?” that I approach this week’s post. Some of the What If? questions floating around in my head involve considerations for higher education institutions. Every sector probably has their own ways they’ve always done something that they are resistant to change. Since I know higher education, my thoughts veer that direction.

What If?

One important question that I find to be an interesting thought experiment is, “What if there are no more students/revenue/funding/________? What if you have to work with what you’ve got?”

  • What if a college or university only has the students they have currently recruited? (As in there aren’t last minute transfers, midyear students, more students next year, etc. to make up a difference.)
  • What would you do differently to make sure each of those students are retained and graduate?
  • What would that level of support entail from faculty and staff? What ways of always doing something are you suddenly willing to change?
  • What would you do if you couldn’t count on those students being replaced by next year’s incoming class because next year will be fewer students?
  • If each year’s incoming class gets smaller and smaller, at what point do you finally accept that the college or university will never return to the size it was in _____ (fill in the blank for the year you think of) and adjust your enrollment goals (and budget) to a smaller size? Or pivot in a completely new direction where new students may exist?
  • When will the institution be willing to explore helping adults earn a degree they started years ago?
  • What will it take to grant transfer credit and award credit for prior learning and life experiences to help those adults graduate sooner? Why wait until they are adults and instead promote credit for prior learning opportunities to high school students? Especially since non-profits like Modern States help pay for high school students to earn credit by examination and many high schools offer Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs?
  • When business and industry is moving away from requiring a degree for many positions and creating their own credentials and qualifications for employment, how does higher education justify requiring someone to go back and retake general education classes because their credits have “expired” from the first time they took the course in college when they were 18?
  • Among the key findings found in a recent survey by Morning Consult and EdChoice was,
    • “Despite the pandemic’s influence, about half of teens still plan on attending college after high school. However, fewer teens are inclined to do so now (-8 points) than they were before the pandemic.”
      • How do college’s compete for the attention of those teens who are still considering college?
      • How can you engage those who aren’t thinking about college right now so they think of you if/when they do decide to go to school?
  • That same survey found,
    • “Teens are split on their preferences between full-time regular schooling and hybrid schooling. One out of 10 say they do not want to attend school in person similar to the level observed in September 2021.”
    • 48% of students wanted school 5 days per week while 41% wanted to stay home at least one day of school in a hybrid format.
    • Another interesting finding was 56% of surveyed students said hands-on learning was the best way they can learn in school, followed next by group learning.
      • How does that compare to the structure of their college classes?
      • What changes are being made today in higher education to prepare for these students who are about to graduate? Schedules, technology, pedagogy, and curriculum all are affected by a new group of students who are arriving at the door this fall…hopefully.

As blasphemous (and scary) as some of these questions are, as funding, demographics, and popular opinion shift, higher education institutions must be thinking about things from new angles. All of this is extremely complicated and I’ve only hit the lower hanging fruit with some enrollment/retention areas. There are many other broken parts to the system (not to mention the ever changing influences of politics, governance, and accreditation) but I still maintain hope that the “make it better” camp that Seth talks about below, will be able to bring about change. It will take change…immediate and extreme change in many cases.

In the words of Lavar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here are a few recent articles in Inside Higher Ed that caught my eye on this topic.

Some of you may remember hearing a statistic from a 2018 report that, “85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.” What jobs in higher education will exist in 2030 that haven’t been invented yet? How does higher education prepare students for the jobs of the future? Here’s one solution…

You can’t teach about things that don’t exist yet, but you can teach someone to learn how to learn.

Leo SaLemi

Making It Better

Seth Godin believes in our abilities to make things better, but some people would rather be off the hook.

When things get difficult, is your instinct to invest the effort to make it better, or to set a trap so it all gets worse?

Because if things get worse, well, then you won’t have to deal with them much longer.

And if things get worse, then you’re off the hook.

No longer your problem.

If we don’t trust ourselves with making it better, if it’s too fraught with risk or emotionally painful, it might feel easier and simpler to simply make it worse and walk away.

Investing in a system, a place, a relationship, a project–that’s a commitment. It puts you even more on the hook. That person who is right in front of you becomes more real and the problem becomes even more urgent.

And it might even be worth it.

Seth Godin’s blog post “Better/worse

“I find myself wanting to be in the make it better camp and then one more thing happens that feels like hitting a wall and I end up questioning whether all the hard work and toil is worth it. Then I keep trying to make it better largely because of you and the others who are constantly working to improve the place.”

Anonymous, comment accompanying shared post
Picture of an black man dressed in a black suit jacket and a white shirt with his head against a wall
Photo by Gevorg on Pexels.com

And finally, from John Amaechi, a vivid description of what it takes to succeed and grow in turbulent times.

Success and Growth Through Turbulence

…success and growth through turbulence requires teams, colleagues, collaboration, and leadership. Anything less will be inadequate in the face of heightened competition, geopolitical instability, cyberthreats, digital disrupters, volatile markets, increased automation, and evolving expectations from both your workforce and clientele. Tectonic shifts are taking place and to effectively respond to such perpetual and dramatic change, we must be honest about who we are and what we’re working with.”

John Amaechi OBE, author of The Promises of Giants

Thank you for reading! Please get in touch if you want to brainstorm solutions or share worries for the future of higher education or whichever industry you are in that may be facing similar challenges. There are no easy answers but there are answers.

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