I'm very excited to announce the release of my book, "Making the Iron Swim: A Leadership Journey." With thanks to the many friends and family members who reviewed the manuscript, I've designed this book to be a series of reflections on leadership for personal development, group study and/or mentoring relationships. Here's the official summary from the cover:
"Jack was a lifelong friend and mentor. On the occasion of John’s inauguration as a new (and young) college president, Jack sent a congratulatory letter that offered special encouragement to “make the iron swim.” That is, to perform the difficult tasks of leadership so well that it seemed miraculous. Remembering the Old Testament story of the prophet Elisha and his ability to make an ax head float in a river, a leadership study began, incorporating Elisha’s life, Jack’s encouragement, and John’s journey over 30 years.
Elisha’s life provides an ancient, yet relevant, case study of stepping into a very difficult and public role requiring all the tools of leadership to survive--including regular episodes of Divine intervention. Whether you’re transitioning into your first significant leadership role, or you’ve been leading for decades, Elisha’s life and Jack’s advice provide helpful insights for the challenges you face--the calls to make the iron swim."
Book available through Amazon and on Kindle.
Higher ed people love talking about higher education in all its forms. We especially love hearing colleagues' experiences and learning from them. Sponsored by JenEd Consulting, "Talking Higher Ed" will feature the people who love higher ed and are willing to share their stories of how they started, as well as their ups and downs.
On your favorite podcast platform, we hope you'll search for "Talking Higher Ed" and subscribe so you'll catch every new episode.
Dr. John E. Neal, President
As the Online Program Management (OPM) industry matures, universities increasingly enjoy the opportunity to negotiate a more customized arrangement to accelerate the growth and visibility of their online programs. But, with expanded opportunity comes increased responsibility to negotiate an agreement that advances the institution’s mission while minimizing potential liability to its operation and reputation.
While avoiding the “one-size-fits-all” approach to OPM contracts, universities often overlook a number of key contract dimensions that may result in an agreement that suffers from poor partner relations, weak program momentum, and even an early dissolution of the executed agreement--with a concomitant loss of opportunity and momentum.
Based on numerous consultations helping universities and OPMs create mutually beneficial agreements, we recommend special attention to a number of key dimensions to clarify partner roles and manage expectations:
For example, universities often rely solely on inflated and/or subjective internal assessments of their technological capabilities, platform support services, course development capacity, and student support infrastructure when determining which services to include in the OPM contract, only to discover later in the partnership that they can’t deliver--or can’t deliver as cost effectively as the OPM.
Conversely, universities frequently over-estimate the power of their brand and the attractiveness of their academic programs, often entering OPM agreements with lofty visions of instant, worldwide success. OPM partnerships require a thoughtful, rational pre-contract assessment of each other’s capacity and ability, as well as a realistic view of enrollment growth and sustainability. Control of key marketing assets, such as search terms, marketing channels, landing pages, and institutional messaging requires a transparent approach between the partners that supports all aspects of the university enrollment mix, while building online as a strategic focus of enrollment expansion.
JenEd Consulting offers extensive support to universities and OPMs in the brokering and negotiation of contracted partnerships. Let us know how we can help you develop an achievable and sustainable relationship.
Dr. John E. Neal
JenEd Consulting, LLC
As the field of big data moves out of the “early adopter” phase and into more mainstream use, many colleges and universities are struggling to balance the challenges it creates with the opportunities it affords. Finding the answer to a question on the Internet has famously been compared to getting a sip of water from a firehouse. That same metaphor can be applied to big data, where the pursuit of a relatively simple question can lead to a deluge of data-supporting answers from all sides.
While there are several methods to improve the likelihood of an effective research effort using big data, there is no element as critical to your success as a research team that includes staff with the necessary skills and knowledge for the effort. When assembling your team, the following roles and skill sets are requisite.
Senior Sponsor: The Senior Sponsor is usually a member of the senior academic or administrative staff. This individual is often responsible for the operations of the area that is being researched. This may include academic affairs, student services, enrollment management, faculty administration, institutional research, information technology, etc. The Senior Sponsor is responsible for ensuring that the research process stays true to its intention, represents the strategic needs of the institution, and is reported correctly and without bias to all of the necessary channels.
Data Scientist: In many ways the Data Scientist is the nexus for the entire research process. Data Scientists must have several skills and abilities to accomplish their responsibilities within the team. Since this role provides the primary oversight and direction of the study, the Data Scientist must have a clear understanding of all phases of the research including its design, acquisition/preparation of data, analysis, interpretation of output, and reporting. Staff in these roles need to pay particular attention to the seams that naturally occur in the “hand-off” between the phases of research. These areas are often prone to error and compromise in the integrity of data and analysis may be compromised.
Data Scientists have the ultimate responsibility for the fidelity of the process and its output. In areas where the institutional talent is not deep enough to support the needs, the college or university may elect to consider outside experience and expertise.
Subject Matter Expert/Content Representatives: The Subject Matter Expert is the team member who works most closely in the area represented in the research. Of all of team members, this individual is “in the trenches” daily and has the greatest knowledge and awareness of the research topic and its context.
Subject Matter Experts are engaged in validating the research plans and questions as they pertain to the area of analysis. They are excellent resources for identifying important internal and external data sources and can often be called upon to judge the quality and completeness of records as part of the data audit. Subject Matter Experts represent the needs and perspective of the consumer of the research. As such, they are in a critical position to inform and shape the format of the research output.
Data Hygienist: The Data Hygienist is responsible for evaluating and determining the suitability of the data for use in analysis. This will include an audit of the accuracy and completeness of the records. The Data Hygienist will also prepare the data based on the agreed upon standards for ingestion. The person(s) in this role also organizes the data in the specified format for analysis.
Data Journalist: The Data Journalist is responsible for the design and composition of the reporting elements of the research. This includes determining the ideal format for presenting clear and actionable output for the identified audience. The Data Journalist often needs to convert technical statistical information into knowledge that can be easily consumed by those without quantitative expertise. The staff member(s) in this position should be comfortable determining the correct and accurate method for graphically representing statistical data. Finally, the Data Journalist ensures that the reporting accurately represents the outcome of the research in a fair and unbiased manner.
IT Team: The IT challenges associated with big data are legion and subject for another blog, if not a book! The development of the IT sub team that supports Big Data is a challenge unto itself. Institutions seeking to work with big data must be committed to recruiting and retaining IT staff that are capable of extracting, storing, accessing, aggregating, formatting, and manipulating structured and semi-structured data from disparate sources. The institution will need data engineers, programmers, database managers, systems architects and related staff with proficiency in coding, modeling, machine learning, database management, information systems management, and related areas. No research effort involving big data will be successful without a skilled and talented IT subteam in place.
While the difficulties in using big data for research are significant, the advantages are considerable. The detail and sheer volume of data now available to your institution has never been matched. Used appropriately, colleges and universities can make decisions informed by analysis that is previously unmatched. But this possibility is unlikely without a skilled and dedicated research team.
Dr. Rob Sapp, Senior Associate
JenEd Consulting, LLC, a comprehensive consulting services company for colleges and universities seeking to extend their mission through quality online programming, today announced a strategic alliance with Academic Keys, LLC, the premier source for academic employment, to collaborate on executive searches in higher education. Offering four levels of search, Academic Keys has filled a long-standing need in higher education - comprehensive search options for all levels of positions at affordable prices. By design, their services focus on sourcing candidates for challenging and tough to fill positions.
The strategic alliance will combine JenEd Consulting’s executive higher education experience with Academic Keys’ expertise providing comprehensive searches at an affordable price. “As a former university president, I know how difficult it can be to attract quality candidates in key faculty and administrative positions,” said Dr. John Neal, President of JenEd Consulting, “JenEd’s strategic consulting activities often result in opportunities to facilitate key searches in a variety of faculty and administrative levels. We are pleased to be utilizing Academic Keys’ dedicated team of researchers, remarkable database, recruiting skills and advertising to offer the highest caliber search services at attractive prices.”
Jennifer Muller, Vice President of Academic Keys, sees the alliance with JenEd Consulting as “a unique partnership with seasoned executives who bring university and corporate experience to their strategic consulting--enriching Academic Keys’ relationships to colleges and universities who view searches as more than simply filling positions, but as strategic opportunities to advance the mission of an institution.”
The JenEd/Academic Keys alliance will offer four levels of search: full-service, economical, cluster hires, and interim positions.
In my work as an online higher education consultant, I divide my time between colleges/universities and the companies that serve them in the online space, particularly online program management firms (OPMs). As a former university president and a former OPM CEO, I have the opportunity to observe universities and OPMs negotiate, create, and manage complex partnership agreements--and I'm often invited to the table because I bring a unique practical perspective of both sides of the relationship.
Over the past five years, I've interviewed over 100 presidents of medium to smaller private, not-for-profit institutions (largely members of the Council of Independent Colleges) about their strategic online plans and what they want and/or need from an OPM. As online learning moves from the periphery to the strategic agendas of private, not-for-profit colleges, presidential perspectives on the role of online learning provide an essential resource to an OPM’s development of products, services, features and marketing themes to assure consonance between the OPM’s strategic direction and its target market. Here are a few of the common themes:
Serve as a source of research for colleges. Presidents wrestle with conflicting constituencies, including regulatory bodies. Objective research on optimum philosophies and approaches (as well as national trends and models for improvement) will give presidents needed ammunition and make institutional change easier.
Don’t treat colleges like a business, nor try to appeal to business-driven results. Not-for-profits bring different values to the table and feel vindicated by recent public floggings of the for-profit sector. Appeal to the larger purposes of higher education—changing lives, expanding the reach of the college’s mission and educational approach.
Colleges maintain a healthy skepticism of external business partners. They all have horror stories of high-priced, overblown promises that cost the president stature and the college momentum and resources. Entrepreneurial colleges feel confident of their ability to run online in-house, while colleges behind the curve are intimidated about which model (and partner) would be best. Trust built through relationships and results must remain paramount.
Most presidents are content with their current online model, but quickly reveal fear of falling behind or losing market share. Few presidents have grandiose dreams about online enrollment, but they are concerned that the world is passing them by.
Online development is usually driven by a single innovator or a small team. Presidents like the inexpensive and home-grown nature of the arrangement, but understand that these key players could leave and move the college back to square one. Many also admit to current difficulties in scaling for success.
Presidents admit that too much time was spent on curricular design and platform development, while too little time and expertise has developed in the branding, marketing and student recruitment side of the online venture. The ability to deliver adequate numbers of students at a reasonable price would convince some presidents to change models and/or platforms.
Declining and/or flat enrollments on campus and in adult programs increase the sense of urgency for online development. Most presidents admit to little or no knowledge of online programming, thinking that it would be an extension of their on ground adult and off-site programs. Online is becoming a separate item on the strategic agenda of many presidents.
Concern persists that online program expansion will cannibalize the adult and off-site programs. Presidents worry that their lack of online marketing expertise will result in fishing in the same prospect pool for both online and on-ground adult students, leading to a net loss of their current markets.
Faculty governance remains the #1 internal obstacle related to all innovation, including online development and expansion. No other issue is more diverse from campus to campus, ranging from faculty driving all issues to faculty being avoided. In all cases, however, the role and function of faculty was a foundational concern.
Presidents must preserve the core identity and mission of the institution. Their jobs hang in the balance. Ironically, many of the presidents admitted that they could survive financial downturns, but not accusations of changing the nature of the college. The for-profits (or not-for-profits that became for-profits) are not attractive models. Partners must understand how colleges measure success over the long haul.
Accreditation and regulatory constraints are making strategic change almost impossible. Many presidents have recent horror stories of timelines for approvals of new programs and locations—most of the stories involved a year or more of waiting for decisions.
Presidents aren’t looking for big markets or rapid growth. Both scenarios raise accreditation and regulatory red flags, and private colleges prefer running under the radar. Conversely, incremental long-term expansion was desirable for most presidents—preferring modest increases that would make a substantial impact in the institution over time.
The student environment must be the focus of all aspects of online delivery. Private college presidents take great pride in the hands-on, personal approach of their programs, including off-site and adult services that exceed student expectations. Retention is not viewed as a business metric, but as a measure of their success in supporting their students.
At JenEd Consulting, we're facilitating the conversation between colleges and OPMs to clarify expectations, while also increasing an understanding and appreciation for the folks on the opposite side of the negotiating table.
Dr. John E. Neal, President
“User Experience” is everywhere. As an emerging formal discipline, its degree programs, best practices, vocabulary and models have made User Experience (note self-important uppercase) feel terribly significant, but totally inaccessible. The province of techies and experts.
But before there were “users”, there were customers and consumers—the regular people who bought and used products and services in the market. Customers interacted with and kept or returned a product. If they were satisfied, they may have come back to the same company for more or they might be lured away by an innovation, better price or clever advertising. Similarly, before students became users, they chose a school, a field of study and courses that they took with more or less enthusiasm and/or learning. Ironically, in a field that prides itself on human-centric design, the very word “users” feels less personal, less human.
If the fundamental idea behind user experience (note less arrogant lowercase) is not new, what has changed? Here are five major shifts.
User experience is often unnecessarily narrowed to refer to on-screen interactions, ignoring bigger goals and context. Instead, user experience at a university might be seen as everything and everyone a student (or parent) interacts with from the first visit to a website to an on-campus visit to a phone call about financial aid. It includes online (marketing, enrollment, delivery of education), books, physical materials, and—most important—contact with real people. Good user experience allows students to manage their own education and achieve their goals.
Faculty members also enjoy or despair of a user experience. In their quest to help students learn and share their passion for a subject, they feel that their knowledge, abilities and time are valued to a greater or lesser extent. Good user experience allows faculty members to use a variety of techniques to deliver content, talk with students, set up meaningful collaboration and create and test new models of learning.
The institution has its own goals: attracting and retaining students and faculty, providing education, improving its reputation, and meeting financial expectations. Good user experience can help a university stay competitive, raise standards, manage risk, and use resources effectively.
Why User Experience?
Providing a great user experience is a challenge and an opportunity. If you’re looking for reasons to focus on user experience, here’s a short list.
User Experience Questions
A good user experience results from asking lots of questions—broad and tightly focused—listening carefully to the answers and pursuing new lines of inquiry. A by-no-means comprehensive list of questions includes:
User experience work is totally accessible, so there’s no need to be intimidated. Like all disciplines, a good guide can help you get smarter fast. JenEd Consulting can work with you to clarify your goals, understand your audiences, and create a process to meet their needs. We practice what we preach—lots of questions, careful listening, advocating on behalf of users, with better results through relationships and collaboration.
Senior Consultant, User Experience
JenEd Consulting, LLC
JenEd Consulting is a Contributor for CIC's 2016 Institute for Chief Academic Officers in New Orleans (November 5-8, 2016). Dr. John Neal and Dr. Rob Sapp will be in attendance, so stop by the booth to say hello and discover specific resources and strategies for your online programs.
Welcome Ginny Rice to the JenEd Consulting team!
Ginny specializes in strategy, user experience and design for education and public information. Her experience spans industries, content and applications with clients that include the Virginia Community College System, Junior Achievement, K12 Inc., the National Library of Medicine, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Time-Life for Children, and the Smithsonian Institution. She is also an entrepreneur—having helped launch three successful businesses—and uses this knowledge to work with new initiatives and growing organizations.
By understanding the audience and identifying the keys to engaging them, she has consistently delivered measurably successful products, services and experiences. She is experienced in working with experts in complex subject matter to develop programs that appeal to multiple audiences with varying levels of competence.
Ginny is a graduate of Brown University and the Culinary Institute of America. She studied Educational Technology at the University of Wisconsin.
I'm honored to be speaking in the Leadership Learning Series for Leadership Donelson-Hermitage. Come join us at this event sponsored by First Tennessee Foundation and Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort (free to attend, but registration required).
Online learning is changing the landscape of higher education and employee development. Employees and organizations must seek innovative alternatives for their development and advancement offerings, all while balancing requests and proposals from vendors and service providers, which requires an enhanced awareness of what’s available and what’s the biggest return for investment for your team.
Attendees at this program will:
Friday, October 14, 2016/7:30am
Piedmont Natural Gas/83 Century Blvd/Nashville, TN 37214