As President of Woodbury University in the multi-ethnic Los Angeles area, I am committed to delivering quality higher education to deserving students in pursuit of their dreams. Their needs inspired this blog post, which I started writing while attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in Washington, D.C., last January. It was an extraordinary event with like-minded colleagues. Of particular value was the forum on President Obama’s Plan to Make College More Affordable: A Better Bargain for the Middle Class. The President’s Plan would create a new rating system, the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS), which will determine which colleges and universities offer “best value,” measured by educational access, affordability, and outcomes. The plan also includes having Congress pass legislation tying federal student aid to the “best value” ratings. AAC&U questioned whether the PIRS will lead institutions to deny access to students who could eventually benefit from college but may take longer to complete their degrees. This is particularly true for students whose socioeconomic backgrounds would require them to have jobs to support their college education. Taking longer to finish a degree could be perceived as diminished value. Another concern is the definition of “best value” relating to salaries of graduates. The system will definitely reward institutions with multiple business, engineering, and technical programs, and punish those that produce large numbers of teachers and public service workers. In her book Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Professor Martha C. Nussbaum wrote: “Without people with a liberal arts background, the world would be filled with narrow, technically trained workers, rather than complete citizens who can think for themselves, criticize tradition and authority, and understand […]
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“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” – Karl Fisch This quote succinctly sums up the mother of all challenges faced by higher education today. American higher education, just like businesses, operates in a VUCA world—one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. This time of great disruptive change is not necessarily a bad thing. According to futurist Bob Johansen, moving from the negative VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) to the positive VUCA or “VUCA Prime” (vision, understanding, clarity and agility) can lead to great outcomes. Here are four tips to leadership in a disruptive VUCA Prime world: Diminish volatility by having “vision.” Leaders should craft and communicate a clear picture of an organization’s destination. Everyone needs to know where the journey is taking them. Replace uncertainty with “understanding.” Leaders should have the ability to “stop, look, and listen.” Effective leaders address uncertain situations by getting fresh perspectives and remaining flexible when testing solutions. Embrace and outwit complexity with “clarity.” Leaders should make “sense of the chaos” and have the ability to see and articulate an untangled future that others cannot yet see. Keeping things simple is welcome relief amid turbulent change. Match ambiguity with “agility.” Effective leaders are comfortable with rapid prototyping—the ability to create quick, early versions of innovations, with the expectation that early failure is often the key to later success. Make a decision. Fail fast. Succeed faster.
“Those who lead inspire us … Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to.” − Simon Sinek I started writing this blog while bearing witness to the latest wave of political protests in Bangkok, Thailand. On Sunday, December 22, an estimated four to six million Thai citizens participated in simultaneous mass protests throughout the city – an enormous number, given Bangkok’s total population of nine million. The protesters were demanding the immediate resignation of caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a successful business tycoon who served as prime minister from 2001 until he was deposed in a coup d’état in 2006. Thaksin is reportedly in Dubai where he has lived in exile after he fled Thailand just before he was to serve his two-year jail term for his conviction of abuse of power and economic crimes. The protests were against the government’s recent attempts to issue amnesty to Thaksin, thereby allowing him to return to Thailand scot-free. Abuse of power and unbalanced justice are still very much alive in countries around the world. But, to change history, it takes only one person who has the courage to publicly express a hopeful vision against injustice. These individuals are often catapulted into leadership roles due to their ideas which resonate with the masses. Two examples of visionary leadership are Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.
I recently returned from the Philippines where I received an award at my undergraduate alma mater’s alumni homecoming, delivered a faculty lecture about engaged learning, and presented a paper about smarter cities at an international conference on urban planning. Little did I know that my brief visit to the Philippines would be eventful. Simultaneous with our arrival in the Philippines was the landfall of Super Typhoon Haiyan (referred to as Yolanda in the Philippines), which destroyed 494,611 houses, affected 9.8 million Filipinos (including 3 million displaced residents), and resulted in the loss of 3,637 lives thus far.[i] Haiyan/Yolanda cut a path that deviated from most Philippine typhoons and was unexpected by the 51 cities and 471 municipalities in 41 provinces[ii] that encountered its fury.
It was Saturday, January 12, 1980. As his Philippine Airlines flight PR-104 from tropical Manila landed in Honolulu, Hawaii, the 24 year-old young man wondered what his new life would be like as an international graduate business student in the United States. This would begin his American journey as he made his way to Pittsburgh. Would the city, its world-recognized corporations, and three universities really appear as shown in the university recruitment materials he received a year earlier? After further stopovers in San Francisco and New York, he finally arrived in Pittsburgh the following morning, Sunday, January 13, meeting his host family and seeing snow flurries for the first time. He and his hosts accomplished many things that Sunday. He found an apartment within walking distance to Pitt, bought household supplies, and settled in. That Monday morning, he was at Pitt opening his bank account. Upon reporting to the Foreign Students Advisor, he was informed he had missed international student orientation and the first week of classes. Despite the mishap, he completed his registration and attended his first class in the MBA program—Financial Accounting—with about 100 other students. Each of the nearly 800,000 international students in the United States has a similar story. What do international students have to do with excellence in higher education?
Why does college cost too much? As President of Woodbury University, I am particularly interested in tracking the financial evolution of higher education, including changing tuitions, the role of endowments, and how they relate to delivering excellence. Harvard, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania have recently reported double-digit endowment returns this past year, leading to colossal reserves of wealth at these Ivy League institutions. While Harvard and Yale are the country’s richest schools, there are 69 other higher education institutions in the United States with endowments over $1 billion.
It is with great enthusiasm and a sense of adventure that I enter into the blogosphere with this maiden post. Enlightening blogs written by thought leaders across industry, education, the arts, and government have inspired me to embrace technology as well. In addition to being able to share insights on important topics relevant to Woodbury University, blog technology allows me to hear from you. This is the connective glue that new media provides and a compelling reason why I envision this blog as a conversation. I hope you will enjoy reading and commenting on this and future blogs as much as I will enjoy writing them. So how does one select the topic of an initial blog? I chose the subject near and dear to me: excellence. In fact, the increasing demands for accountability of higher education institutions in the face of rising college costs, lackluster graduation rates, and increasing student loan default rates have intensified pressure on higher education to seek “world-class” status.