It's been talked about a lot, lately. Largely because it's a core attribute of the Millennial generation. With their ability to access almost anything from anywhere at the drop of a hat, how decisions are made is changing.
Collaboration is no longer a nicety, it's a necessity.
Don't get me wrong. It's not like I believe the concept was invented yesterday, and the many generations prior to Millennials never worked in groups to solve problems. But...the fact is that the needle towards how much emphasis is placed on collaboration is moving, and moving fast.
When you can get information from anywhere, it's expected that any voice that wants to be part of the conversation can be. And we no longer live in a world where that is up for debate. Ask just about any organization, and they will tell you (if they know what they are doing) they no longer "control" the conversation about who they are.
The same is true in higher education.
And that's not bad news.
It should be seen as an amazing opportunity.
To connect. To engage. To empower.
What's the alternative?
The exhaustion found in isolation.
Administrators having closed door meetings, deciding on the entire direction their institution will take. Faculty believing their only role is to teach, and retreating to their office with a closed door when they are done. Students understanding that thumbs on keyboards, and earbuds in ears aren't valuing the relationships next to them. All of it creating more isolation, when what we need is healthy conversation. Across all groups of people, and beyond just the walls of the institution.
I'm not over-generalizing, and saying this is the case everywhere, for every University. But I'd be willing to bet that there are pockets of this on most campuses. And therein lies the amazing opportunity. Again...trading isolation for conversation.
No University is an island. And it's time to look deeper into why the recruitment, enrollment, and retention challenges are here, and what can be done about them.
There are 3 things that the exhaustion from isolation
will do to any team. And more good news...it's avoidable.
1. Desperation: Some institutions of higher learning fall into this trap. It's trying every idea that comes across the table to be "relevant". Most of the ideas tried end up being ones other Universities have tried, and have been remotely successful with in the past. The problem? Notice I said "the past". There is no forward thinking leadership in desperation. It's hang on and survive, not step out and thrive. But, Brett..."new" might not work. You're right. If it does? You just traded in desperation for innovation. That's a solid upgrade.
2. Frustration: When enrollment and retention begin to decrease, frustration increases. Trying to solve the problem only through internal channels may seem like the natural play here. I'd suggest this is the time to look externally as well. A "both-and" approach. Taking the best of who you are and connecting it with the very connected world "outside the University walls". Fighting off frustration comes when leadership is committed to doing something very different. Daring to question the status quo.
3. Unmet Expectation: Unfortunately, this is the "blame game" portion of the program. It's when the numbers don't look good, so the institution looks for the person they need to pin it on. I would suggest it's less of a person problem at this point, and simply a vision problem. What do I mean by that? It could be one of a few things. The University may not have a vision that is clear and concise (not a wordy paragraph where every other word is five syllables, just to sound good). If you can't articulate it, how can anyone be expected to follow it? If the University does have this in place, it's possible that hiring faculty and staff is done more as a "fill the position" mode, than to "support the vision". Bringing in people who aren't sold out to who you are and why you exist is a recipe for unmet expectations, because the measure of success looks different to everyone. And lastly...the recruitment never stands a chance, because it's being done by best of intentions, rather than intentionally. The "fill the funnel" method...aka, just get them here, and get a deposit. It just doesn't work that way anymore. Sometimes you have to grow differently. Addition, by subtraction...so that you can multiply. Cut out what doesn't cling to your vision (prune), so that who you are can grow back even stronger over time.
I realize it can be hard to have these conversations, and I applaud all of the Universities that are currently taking the time to do so. It's time we look at collaboration as a gift. The alternative? Continuing to work in isolation...facing the unwanted acts of desperation, feelings of frustration, and the reality of unmet expectations.
I have a friend, who is a professor, that made a comment recently about what needs to happen in higher education. Short, sweet and to the point.
"Deconstruct to reconstruct".
The only way it will work is through true collaboration.
Administration, faculty, staff, students...
AND those outside the 4 walls of the institution.
In the same room.
Make the decision to be intentional about building these relationships,
so that you create teams of influence.
That's how you...
Change a campus.
Change a life.
Change the world.
One collaboration at a time.
Don't get caught up with only what you can see today,
focus on what you know the world needs tomorrow.
Commit to your vision.
In the face of doubters.
In the face of naysayers.
In the face of critics.
Or you can give in.
And we'll all be in exactly the same place tomorrow.
And the critics?
They'll have done nothing.
It's what they do best.
Critics create fear.
You have a choice today.
Live in fear created by critics,
or hope built on your vision.
Which world would you rather live in?
When we stop...we give critics credit for their work.
Are you ready?
Will you go first?
Will you step up?
We are living in a time that desperately needs someone to do this work.
The "other shoe"?
Will you sit there and be crushed by it,
or be long gone...blazing a trail of progress?
Today alone, I have been in contact with Universities that have the following titles on their leadership teams...
Director of Student Success & Retention
Director of First Year Programs
Director of Campus Life & First Year Experiences
VP of Student Success & Calling
Dean of Student Success & First Year Experience
Director of First Year Experience
When I hear these titles,
I can't help but get excited.
This is educational leadership at the highest level.
They are recognizing that the world of higher education is changing...
and doing everything they can to lead the way.
These titles tell me that campus leaders are willing to do whatever it takes to meet students where they are at. By doing so, they are walking with students on their journey, to get them where they are called to go.
It doesn't get any better than that!
It's an honor and a privilege to be part of that process.
The 2015-2016 academic year is going to be EPIC!
Buckle-up and enjoy the journey!!!
Helping students identify WHO they are and WHY they exist isn’t just something to do,
it’s giving them an opportunity to articulate the someone they are.
And without someone knowing WHO they are,
how can they possibly know WHAT to do?
I'll prove my point...
We are addicted to "WHAT" questions...
and we start asking them about the time kids can talk right through their college years.
WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?
WHAT is your favorite subject?
WHAT is your major?
WHAT are you going to do with that?
WHAT kind of job do you want?
But when questions are based on WHAT they should do, we miss the point.
On the other hand, when they are based on WHO they are, everything changes.
Try these WHAT questions instead...
WHAT breaks your heart?
WHAT do you daydream about when you are in school?
WHAT would you change if money were no object?
WHAT keeps you up at night when you can't sleep?
WHAT gets you so excited it's hard to sit still?
That will get you closer to understanding WHO students are, WHY they exist, and the unique purpose they are hard-wired to fulfill. They've got gifts, and talents that could change the world. But when they are simply used to check off boxes for majors and jobs to get through school and pay bills...again, we've missed the point.
When we value WHO they are (relationship) over just WHAT they could do (transaction),
we help them get to WHERE they will one day leave a legacy of massive impact.
That sounds exciting!
For your University.
And most importantly...
For the lives they'll change,
as they live out their calling.
Your "retention problem",
is really a relationship opportunity.
It's a much needed shift in perspective.
It's a much needed shift in focus.
From trying to come up with initiatives to keep someone (that sounds like prison),
to creating environments to get to know someone (that sounds like a lot of fun).
No two experiences on campus will ever be the same.
They can't be.
Every single student coming to your University brings different baggage.
And not just the ones on move in weekend.
The emotional ones they carry with them every, single day as they go to and from class.
The emotional ones they carry with them trying to look strong, when they feel weak.
The emotional ones they carry with them when they aren't accepted by someone.
The list is longer than we'd ever know.
And the effort it takes to carry them weighs on a person's heart.
It did for me as a college freshman,
and it does for many, many students on your campus as well.
But here is the good news...
The opportunity is greater than ever before.
Engage them in conversation from day one.
Empower them to talk about their baggage and they'll be more likely to open it up.
Excite them that their best days are still in front of them, on your campus.
Energize them by showing them they aren't alone, and that others carry baggage too.
Remind them they are a relationship you value,
by creating an experience that matches your words.
Give them access to people who have been through what they are going through,
not just people that want to "fix" them so they don't leave school.
That's a very important part of the process.
People respond to the opportunity to hear from someone who has been in their shoes.
You'll be amazed how willing they are to open up about what their greatest needs are, so that in 4 years or so they walk across a stage having reached their next milestone.
It's what you want.
It's what they want.
It's what I wanted.
And it will happen when we stop referring to them as a retention problem,
and start honoring them as real people, with real needs through a real relationship.
It's what helped me on my journey from failing out of college,
to becoming a scholarship musician and athlete, and graduating Cum Laude.
There are countless stories similar to mine waiting to unfold on your campus.
The only question is are you willing to seek out the conversations early on,
so that you don't have confrontations (removal from school) when it's too late?
I believe you are.
I believe you can.
I believe you will.
Please remember to connect with someone who has carried the burden of failing out, as part of your freshman initiatives. There aren't many Universities doing this. And if you are looking to lead...to differentiate yourself as a University, that would do it. It's an integral part of the success for every one of your students. And if you don't know where to start looking for that person, I've got good news...
You've already found him.
Another reason your "retention problem", is really...a relationship opportunity.
For you and me,
so that it is for you and your students,
at your University.
I was having a conversation with a client yesterday,
and I shared this important piece of advice...
"Be a problem solver, not a product seller."
Hit pause today, and ask your team the following question.
Are we solving an actual problem for our customer(s) today,
or simply begging them to buy what we are selling?
How do you know if you are solving or selling?
If you are serving your needs, you are selling.
If you are serving your customers needs, you are solving.
The irony is that when we serve and solve,
the selling takes care of itself.
If Ben & Jerry started a college.
What a thought!
Their enrollment would go through the roof because of these 5 reasons.
They've done what they can,
with what they have,
where they are.
That's why if Ben & Jerry ever decided to start a College they'd crush it.
Value Your People.
Seems simple really.
Yet so many Universities are stuck in the Vanilla ice-cream race,
trying to be just like that place down the road...or across the country.
Stop being a "me-too" University,
and you'll stand a chance of being the Ben & Jerry's of Higher Education.
The AmeriCone Dream.
Go create one the next generation wants to be part of.
It starts with a statistic, and ends with an opportunity.
By the year 2025, 75% of the workforce in the USA will be made up of Millennials.
(Millennials are born roughly between the years of 1980-2000).
That means 75% of the workforce will be 40 years old or younger in 2025.
That means leadership will be younger in 2025.
That means that consumers and their spending habits will be younger in 2025.
And all of that is starting to ramp up...now.
So what is the opportunity?
Education has the largest platform to completely change the game.
I wonder what it might look like to see the college student experience be different than ever before. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm not speaking to the way academics are taught in the classroom by the tremendously talented faculty and staff that does so. I'm speaking specifically to how life is done, lived and offered to the college students during their time on campus.
I imagine a different "experience". One that to implement will give you that "pit of the stomach I want to hurl on my shoes" feeling wondering if it will work. So much different that for it to work, we'll have to ignore a lot of naysayers and status quo lovers in order to do the hard work of launching such a thing.
And when I think about that kind of world...
that kind of University...I can't help but get excited.
I can't help but smile at the thought of my three children attending "that" University.
I'll even toss out some low hanging fruit ideas of what I think it could look like.
Your entire existence as a college student is tracked, in real-time, with something that rivals the "MagicBand" you see taking over Disney these days. Every swipe of the wrist tracks class attendance, grades, meals, volunteer service hours, attendance at sporting events and concerts. No, not a "big brother is watching thing". It would be built FOR the student, not to limit the student. It would be incentivized to create a 4 year, digital resume of excellence. The student could share it like they would something on facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram. A prospective employer could see their growth. No more "tell me one of your strengths and one of your weaknesses" cheesy interview questions. This is their life, 24-7, over several years. Employers see right away if the student is a fit for their organization, rather than them taking a job that they end up hating...and the employer loses tons of money recruiting, hiring, training and trying to retain them.
That's a financial and cultural win for the employer.
That's a cultural fit win for the employee.
That's a job placement win for the University.
Isn't it fun to see the wins starting to pile up for everyone involved?
Parents, Faculty, Administrators, Friends...whomever...not wondering how the student is doing, if they are making it, etc... It's live. It's real-time update-level stuff. Hey, if Mom and Dad are footing the bill for tuition, giving them a shot to see how their investment is paying off BEFORE it might implode is just sound investment strategy. AND...it could save a lot of students from making some pretty crummy decisions early on. That's a win-win. Oh, and that whole retention thing colleges are concerned about. That's a win for them too.
And the wins keep coming.
This whole thing isn't just about 4 years in college. It goes with the student, grows with the student, as they enter the workforce. They launch a company, and because they attended a University that "gamified" and "Disney-fied" their college experience they are better equipped to offer the same game changing experience to their team.
A world where "wonder" is about opportunity and possibility again,
not if a student was going to "make it".
This college experience is arcade not archaic.
75% of the USA Workforce will be 40 years old or younger by 2025.
Still think the current "college experience" (outside of the classroom) is preparing them for that?
I know quite a few Universities are pondering the recruitment & retention challenge.
I also know it isn't something to worry about.
It's the coolest, most amazing opportunity to launch a college experience today that will leave a legacy of impact tomorrow.
The sunset is coming (2025).
The work we do before,
dictates the view we have when it gets here.
It's time to create the University on a hill for all to see
as a shining example of what true innovation looks like...
And ends up with the best seat in the house come 2025.
That is a sunset I can't wait to see.
That is an opportunity to leave a tremendous legacy.
That is a world I want for all three of my children.
That is the University I want all of them attending.
Is that you?
I failed out of college.
In the spring of 1994 I received a letter telling me, due to my academic standing, I had failed out of the University I was attending. But I knew it was coming long before it arrived. Within a few short weeks of stepping onto campus as a freshman in the Fall of 1993, this ball of yarn was already starting to unravel.
I felt like a failure.
I suppose that isn't much of a story, in and of itself. Others have been where I was, and others will be in the future. So, why am I sharing this? Because others don't have to. Because I have made it my life's work to not "waste my pain". 1993-1994 was a painful year for me. And unless you've been there or are now, it is really hard to understand the feeling of isolation and desperation that accompanies it.
I didn't know WHO I was, and was desperately trying to. I knew who everyone else thought I was. I knew who everyone else wanted me to be. (Parents, Teachers, Coaches, Faculty, Administration, Friends, etc…) Which, in my mind, translated to what I was supposed to be. The problem was, it wasn't me. It was someone else's version of me. I couldn't articulate that thought then like I can now. 20 plus years of reflection can offer clarity like that. So now I spend my time working with high school and college students who are where I was. I work with them, so that they don't have to go through what I did.
They are standing in the midst of real struggle.
Emotional. Relational. Educational…struggle.
All of it, and more.
As a college freshman, it didn't take long for me to connect with a group of people who were willing to let me be me…or so I thought. Did they have my best interests at heart? No. Looking back, did they really know me at all? No. Then why was I so attracted to being around them, and neglecting my academics?
Because they offered me something I wanted.
Come here. Do this. Be part of "us". Do your thing. We value you, because of who you are. No conditions. No strings attached. (except there were) We'll "do life" together. Eat together. Play intramurals together. Road trip together. Everything…together. Until it gets hard. Then they were gone.
I so desperately wanted something that made sense as I struggled, that I took my eyes off of my future.
Let me be clear. It wasn't their fault. I can't and won't pass the blame. But my experience was real.
I knew I didn't want to be all the things everyone else wanted me to be. I knew I was confused. I knew I had no clue what major I should choose. And I knew the distraction of being pursued by a group of people was giving me what I thought I needed.
But it wasn't.
And the day I received "the letter", that became painfully clear.
None. Not one…single…person from that group has ever reached out to me after I left the University.
Let that sink in.
It was one of the most isolating feelings I had and have ever experienced.
The good news?
This isn't where the story ended.
Actually, it's where it started.
And it's why I am writing to you today.
My story of struggle in college was over 20 years ago.
But for many college students…their story is happening right now.
And the feelings of isolation, confusion, desperation, etc…?
They are real. They are the same.
You may know someone going through them as we speak.
I want to invite you to keep reading as I share more of my story.
You aren't alone.
And before you leave, please take this encouragement with you. (Share it with someone if this isn't you)
You are uniquely gifted. You are talented. The world needs every, single ounce of who you are and the change only you can bring to us. You are creative, smart, and compassionate. I look forward to sharing with you on this journey. I will share my story, so that you feel empowered in yours. You will make it. You will bounce back, comeback, and use this setback as THE moment you launched yourself forward.
I believe in you, and so do many, many others.
Thanks for stopping by today.
I look forward to hearing your story, too.
I've held onto this story for a long time.
I've told it in bits and pieces, but never in it's entirety...
I failed out of college.
It still hurts to write those words, and worse yet to read them back to myself.
But the hurt isn't a "feel sorry for me" hurt. It's a "I'm doing something about it" hurt. In the lives of those who need the advice, mentorship, and direction that can only come from the voice of someone who's been there.
I ended up graduating Cum Laude from another 4 year University.
The journey in between, and since, has taught me everything I will share with you. And I'm doing it, so that you can make it.
When you know WHO you are, you will know WHAT to do.
And one more thing...
You aren't a failure.
Maybe some of your choices are making you feel that way.
But...that word doesn't define WHO you are.
That word is simply a reminder that there is work to be done.
Work that you can do, so that you make it to where you want and need to go.
Failure isn't a permanent place.
It's a reminder that it's time to get to work.
So let's do the work.
Keep coming back to this blog for starters.
Take in some encouragement.
One step at a time.
We'll talk more soon.
I've got a lot of stories from my journey I am going to share with you.
We all know what those letters stand for.
But...I want you to hit pause for a moment.
Look at what must come first if you truly want to be a valuable leader,
to those who have been entrusted to you.
Mental. Verbal. Physical.
Stop trying to be the hero, the most valuable, and the most talked about individual. Do the hard work of being Mentally prepared, Verbally articulate, and Physically under control. Do that well and you won't have to convince anyone to follow you as a leader...you'll look around and find you simply are one.
"Most Valuable Player".
It's an individual honor that is never about the person themselves,
but rather how well they've built up those around them.
It's the difference between being a leader of influence,
or someone who needs to be seen as the authority.
Leaders of influence create teams that make a difference in the world around them.
That is what it means to be an MVP.
From the desk of our founder, Brett W. Gould.