A Vision for Higher Ed

Creating a vision

Many who write about the future of higher education predict that up to 50% of small private and regional state institutions will close by 2025.  There are too many similar institutions which, other than location, are indistinguishable from each other and suffer from a lack of economy of scale.  To be assured of survival, an institution must distinguish itself within the marketplace by offering something valuable and unique. 

There is a big difference between institutional vision and a visionary institution. The first determines what the institution wants to be in perhaps the next five or ten years.  It is often stated in terms such as achieving the status as the best comprehensive or research institution in the region, or perhaps in terms of rankings. This is an admirable approach and one you are likely to find on the vast majority of university web sites.  I, however, am interested in working at a visionary institution, one that is a leader by adopting an approach or emphasis that others do not. 

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy announced before a special joint session of Congress the dramatic and ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the Moon before the end of the decade.  This initiative created a national sense of excitement and fueled many innovations.  It made the United States special and its people proud to be an American.  The fundamental job of a senior university leader is to implement a likeminded “race to the moon” initiative that unites the Board, faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors around a distinctive vision for the institution.  This vision must be grounded in best practices, local culture and values, and help all divisions navigate a cohesive path toward excellence. It must challenge the community and its members to grow, and generate an exciting story to tell our alumni and potential donors so that they invest in the University and support our graduates. 

I believe that this vision should also be grounded in student success which must be a fundamental part of our institutional DNA.  To motivate the institution and its people to think and act collaboratively to support students, the institution’s success must be tied to students’ success through and beyond graduation.  Each and every faculty and staff member must constantly be thinking about and helping individual students complete courses successfully, persist through graduation, and translate their academic success into success in life.  We must think of graduation as the beginning of a lifelong relationship and not its end, and create a compact with our students - we will invest in your success and expect in return, that you will invest in the University. 

Only a few of our higher education institutions fall into the category of visionary institutions.  A couple of examples are Western Governor’s University for its competency based approach, and Evergreen for its flexible pathways and evaluation system.  As I stated above, I strongly believe that vision must be community generated with ideas coming from many sources.  As a leader with broad experience at many institutions, I am expected to contribute ideas to this process, some of which I have outlined on this page.

Enacting vision

I am an entrepreneur by nature, and have successfully enacted vision through my work in Academic Affairs at multiple institutions, and in the business world.   For example, during the early stages of the Internet I had a vision to create the first online School of Pharmacy and what may have been the first professional doctorate delivered online.  This is still a highly successful school at Creighton University.   I also created, and for many years ran, my own innovative software company which developed knowledge management software to support learners. I have had experience, not only developing vision, but also implementing it with strategic planning and measuring progress toward its accomplishment with appropriate metrics through the institutional effectiveness process.