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The academic conference that I wish I could attend would be one focused exclusively on economical vulnerable institutions. We would spend 3 days learning from the leadership, faculty, and students of these schools - and then work together as colleagues and collaborators to try to come up with creative ways in which might help. Out of this conference might emerge new partnerships, new collaborations, and new relationships. At the very least, more of us in higher ed would gain some empathy for the challenges faced by our colleagues at economically vulnerable institutions.

So was my reaction after reading Rick Seltzer’s piece Days of Reckoning. The challenges faced by economically vulnerable institutions - small tuition dependent (and often religiously affiliated) schools focusing on humanities and situated in demographically challenging and rural localities - constitutes amongst the most compelling (and heartbreaking) narratives in all of postsecondary education.

St. Gregory’s and Memphis College of Art and Grace University and Marygrove and Wheeling Jesuit are us, and we are them. The folks who work at these schools are as smart, dedicated, committed, and knowledgeable as we are. The teaching and scholarship of their faculty is as essential to our culture and society as the work of professors at every school. The students and alumni of these institutions deserve better than they are getting.

One session at this conference built around the experiences and stories of economically vulnerable institutions (which I would hope that the Gates Foundation will fund) would be all about tech. What steps should the Chief Information Officer and the Director of Digital Learning take at these economically vulnerable schools?

Here are a few suggestions:

1 - Online Learning Programs Would Start Immediately:

I wouldn't wait to spin up new online programs. We’d start with any courses, majors or programs that had high demand. Online courses would be available to both matriculated students and anyone else who applied.

The goal would be to discover where a market exists for online programs, but we’d start not by talking but by doing.   

2 - Make All Tech Spending Completely Transparent:

On day one I would publish the full technology budget on the web. Every project. Every contract.  Every service.  And maybe every salary.  As full and utter transparency as possible.

Then I would be make all the changes and cuts and new plans out in the open. Everything would be visible for the entire community to see. Communications around technology choices would be constant, robust, and open to dialogue.

3 - Immediately Eliminate Any Institution/Campus Hosted and Produced Technology Services:

Do any of the schools at risk of closing still run their own servers? Are they hosing ERP or SIS or LMS applications on campus? Are any members of the technology staff spending their time managing administrative computing systems?

An economically vulnerable school should run like a startup in 2017. Own no technology. Rent everything. Consume all the software as a service.

4 - Shift All Personal Productivity Tools to Free Cloud Based Applications:

Every new computer would be Chromebook. And any paid application would go away. All work will be done on Google Drive. Only free or ad supported software licenses will be used for personal productivity work.

5 - Commit to Shifting Technology from a Cost Center to a Profit Center:

Within 3 years I’d commit that the technology organization was bringing in money for the institution. Revenue positive. We would start with that commitment, and then work backward to figure out how to reach that goal.

Perhaps the key will be online, low-residency and blended programs, one’s that allow more students to be enrolled without building new classrooms or dorms. Or perhaps the answer will come in corporate partnerships, grants, or something else. The important thing is the willingness to make the commitment, and the flexibility and determination to see it through.

Do you have any other ideas in technology?

What changes would you make if you had a leadership role in an economically vulnerable school?

Should these suggestions only apply to institutions that are in danger of closing?

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