I read with great interest the Aspen Institute Task Force Report on the Future of the College Presidency -- Renewal and Progress: Strengthening Higher Education Leadership in a Time of Rapid Change.
The part from the report that I wish to call particular attention is what the Task Force has to say about technology:
"Presidents are also increasingly tasked with leading their institutions to utilize technology — including online and hybrid courses, modular instruction, automated student advising systems, and predictive analytic software—and to create cost savings, educate more students, and increase efficiency. But while technology has transformed aspects of operations in all institutions, higher education as a whole has been slower than other sectors to adopt technology and build the infrastructure necessary to derive efficiencies from its integration into the core functions of the college.”
What can future college presidents do to overcome the challenges identified in report around higher education’s slowness, relative to other industries, in adopting technologies to "derive efficiencies from its integration into the core functions of the college”?
Another way to ask this question would be, how might a future college president leverage technology to differentiate their institution in an increasingly competitive postsecondary ecosystem?
There is, of course, no single answer to this question.
There is no algorithm for how technology should be utilized within a college or university to drive new revenues, reduce costs, improve access, and increase quality.
With that caution, I’ll offer 3 rules of thumb that every new college president should keep in mind as they consider the role that technology should play at their new institution.
Rule Of Thumb #1 - Technology Is Strategic:
The big idea that I hope that every new college president internalizes is that technology is strategic. Technology must not only align with an institution’s strategy, it must be part of that strategy.
This means that new college presidents should be formulating institutional strategy in collaboration with campus technology leadership. It makes no sense to come up with the core strategic plans, and then only later bring the campus IT leaders in to implement that strategy.
The only viable path is to partner with IT leadership to understand the differentiating strengths and value proposition of the institution, as well opportunities for both growth and savings, and then to give that campus technology leader the support and cover to operationalize the strategic plan.
Bringing a technological perspective to strategic planning will alter and expand the options that a new college president has to lead institutional change. New opportunities to reach new students, improve the quality of the educational experience for existing students, and lower costs for non-differentiating activities will only be discovered if technological thinking (and campus technology leaders) are integral to discussions and planning.
Rule of Thumb #2 - Technology Is A Way of Thinking:
Higher ed leadership gets themselves in trouble when they think of technology as what it does, rather than what it means. Technology is not only the hardware and software that a school buys and uses - or the people who work in the technology units. Rather, technology is a way of thinking.
Technological thinking is an orientation towards the work of higher ed that prioritizes rapid change, fast prototyping, and iteration. It is a perspective that is not only impatient with the status quo - but one that believes in the potential (the necessity) for non-incremental change.
Progressive technological thinking is informed by the dissolution and reformation of industries as diverse as entertainment, retail, news, and publishing. There is a bias towards action and risk taking. An awareness, as Andy Grove so memorably stated, that only the paranoid survive.
Technology people are doers more than talkers. They like to build things, try them out, and then push them to scale.
To work in technology is to believe that data matters more than opinions, but that good design (and design thinking) separates the average from the inspiring.
New college presidents should bring people with a technologists brain into their leadership cabinet.
Rule of Thumb #3 - Technology Is Not a Magic Bullet:
The final rule of thumb that I’ll suggest for every new college president is to abandon the idea that technology will be the solution. The effective use of technology to reach strategic goals for institutional differentiation - and the development of a long-term viable institutional business model - is very difficult.
Technological agility is not a substitute for effective leadership.
Technology can amplify existing institutional strengths, but technology can not cover up for an inability to make hard choices about where to invest (or divest) within the institution.
Technology can assist in communications and messaging - is indeed critical for any modern outreach effort - but technology cannot determine the message. (Or ensure that the leadership is disciplined enough to stay with that message).
Online learning, analytics, or adaptive learning platforms are not cures for the postsecondary cost disease.
Technology will get the new college leader nowhere if she is unwilling to make the hard choices necessary to invest in supporting all educators on campus, or in developing a set of structures and a culture that supports all learners.
The technology leaders that a new college president brings in to her leadership team should be excited about the potential of technology, but skeptical about how technology has been historically deployed in higher education.
A new college president should insist that the campus technology unit embody the values, norms, and culture of the larger institution - while also charging the campus technologists with being part of the change making process.
What other advice about technology would you offer to a new college president?
Will we be seeing more educators from a technology backgrounds becoming college presidents?