Five Frustrations: Lessons for Higher Ed After An Awful Car Rental Experience

So you may be asking why a story about a rental car company is in an academic journal. Last week, I reserved a car and the series of events and exchanges reminded me of some of the same issues students face when interacting with their colleges and universities. As a former VP for Enrollment Management, I am keenly aware of the institutional goal to create a lifetime of loyalty: from prospect to student to alumni. The impact of the poor use of technology throughout a lifetime of engagements can severely damage this loyalty. What follows is a comparison of my experience with Enterprise to a student’s experience with an institution.

Read the rest of my latest article published in The EvoLLLution! by clicking here


TeslaI read recently an article in USA Today describing how the Iowa Department of Transportation shut down a weekend of Tesla test-drives in Des Moines. For those of you that are not familiar with Tesla, the company is revolutionizing the auto industry through the development of an electric car that is capable of going over 300 miles on a single charge and performs like a high-end sports car. Another key difference in how Tesla is revolutionizing the auto industry is how their customers buy their cars. Instead of using costly dealerships, Tesla sells directly to customers online or at one of their store locations in upscale malls across America.

So why did the Iowa Department of Transportation stop Tesla’s test-drives in Des Moines?

Two reasons: 1) Iowa does not allow automakers to sell directly to the public and 2) Tesla is not a licensed dealer in Iowa. The state of Iowa considers test-drives as a “dealer activity.”

And who ratted Tesla out? The Iowa Automobile Dealers Association.

This reminds me of higher education. Instead of the dealers adapting to the changing marketplace and working with the automakers to build similar cars to compete with Tesla, they are simply using arcane and outdated laws to limit an innovative alternative to traditional car options.

Higher education has relied on the Department of Education and regional accreditors to limit competition under the auspices of ensuring quality education. However, they truly cannot measure quality and are simply relying on the old system to protect the status quo. Like the Iowa Department of Transportation, the entities that oversee higher education believe they are protecting the consumer (student), however their over-protection is forcing innovators to find a “work-around.”

One of the most recognized brands worldwide is Nike, featuring its famous Swoosh logo. The history of the logo is colorful and much insight can be gleaned from its concept and development.

ideasIn the late 60’s, Phil Knight was teaching accounting at Portland State and he approached a college student named Carolyn Davidson to do some graphic design work for him because he heard she needed money to take an oil painting class. They agreed on $2 per hour and their relationship began. After working for several years as a freelance graphics designer for Phil, he asked her in early 1971 to create a new logo for a shoe company he was starting.

She created several logos and presented them. The Swoosh was not immediately accepted and she was asked if she had others. After presenting several other designs it was decided to go with the Swoosh because they needed it immediately and Phil said, “We don’t love it but maybe it will grow on me.”

And the rest is history. The Nike Swoosh is one of the most recognizable logos in the world. And what whopping sum did Carolyn get paid? $35 for the 17.5 hours it took her to create the design options presented to Phil. Pretty good investment.

Where do we look for fresh ideas in higher education? Industry experts, benchmark studies, consultants? Maybe it is time we start looking at the customers we serve for how we should be redesigning higher education. That is only the beginning. Instead of rejecting new ideas because “we have never done it that way,” we need some of Phil’s attitude. I don’t love it but maybe it will grow on me.

We know the many clichés about quitting.

“A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.” – Napoleon Hill

“Once you learn to quit, it becomes habit.” – Vince Lombardi

“A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits.” – Richard Nixon

In a recent issue of FastCompany, Jan Bruce argues that it might be okay to quit. She specifically addresses quitting a job if you feel trapped in an endless job with no hope for the future. It is an interesting read that really got me thinking about colleges and universities that refuse to quit.

I quitThis might not be going where you think, but hang with me. I am not talking about the positive side of tenacity but rather the negative. I can name several colleges that should just quit. Not quit programs or athletics, but just quit altogether. Go away.

In my mind, I see a school with enrollments around 600 FTE, buildings with deferred maintenance so high the physical plant will never catch up, faculty and staff turnover rates in the double digits annually because the new hires are not given a clear picture of the desperate financial condition of the school until well after they are hired. Retention rates at these institutions are high and the cost of attendance has well outpaced the students’ ability to pay off their student loan debt if they happen to graduate with a degree that has trained them for a job with a paupers wage. Every year the advancement office desperately tries to raise enough money to balance the budget but they never seem to get ahead. Stop taking student’s money and stop begging donors. Just stop.

Oh, and the schools I have pictured in my head absolutely refuse to be innovative or try new things. Die a proper and honorable death before you are forced to close. Ensure your students have a place to go and the community has a use for your worn out facilities. But, just go.

This article was written by me and originally posted on The EvoLLLution

The Promise

Many young men and women signed up for the military with a promise of access to educational benefits during their active duty and when they became veterans.

The Challenge

Having served as a military liaison for several institutions, I understand the complexity and frustration of trying to navigate the multitude of benefits programs when it actually comes time to enroll. Compounding the problem is the inconsistency with which colleges and universities award credit for both military-specific training and prior college courses.

Finding a Solution

military educationThis month, more than 100 stakeholders gathered in Arlington, VA to discuss how to help servicemembers engage and navigate the college application and acceptance process. Giving veterans a jump-start on their college careers and a well-defined path will increase their recruitment, retention and graduation rates.

Much of the information talked about in the education circles, however, never makes it to the veterans who wish to attend college.

Having worked with the Coast Guard and National Guard, I was familiar with a software program many education officers used to capitalize on the SOC agreements and the college credit military members can receive for their professional training to shorten the time to and cost for the degree. What makes this service different is it offers unbiased, institution-agnostic counseling that looks at any previous college credits, military and corporate training and prior learning to provide a list of options for the student based on the degree they seek. This can literally save the student years of college and thousands of dollars in tuition.

You can find out more about this program at www.

Want to know more? Read my complete article on this subject at The EvoLLLution.

Photo by Roy Cox/Courtesy of University of Maryland University College

Last month President Obama convened over 100 college presidents and leaders of organizations, foundations and companies that service higher education. The goal was to increase the opportunities for low-income students to attend college. The 47-page report released after the meeting is rife with humor if you understand the dynamics of the changes in higher education. If you are not aware of the changes, it has all of the components of a great political gathering to “share ideas”.

Here is what the White House gives as reasons why improving access to higher education is important for low-income students:

  • The share of jobs that require postsecondary education has doubled over the last 40 years, as jobs require more skills.
  • In 1990, the U.S. ranked first in the world in four-year degree attainment among 25-34 year olds; today the U.S. ranks 12th.
  • While half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families do.
  • Colleges have grown more competitive, restricting access. While the number of applicants to four-year colleges and universities has doubled since the early 1970’s, available slots have changed little.

And the interventions proposed:

  1. Connecting low-income students to colleges where they can succeed
  2. Increasing the pool of students prepared for college
  3. Reducing the inequalities in college advising and test preparation
  4. Breakthroughs in remedial education

Call me silly, but isn’t this that what community colleges do already? While the White House will not release a list of the attendees, you can see by the list of those signing commitments there are very few representatives from community colleges on the list. One explanation given is because community colleges are already doing this, the White House needed commitments from those who are not actively focused on low-income students. Again, why give the attention to those who are doing it or have them present to the group what is working in the field? Nope. Let’s have a summit and gather those with little or no experience to help set the policy and focus.

Frois Gras for Everyone

Foie Gras for Everyone

Second, the College Board – you know the group that administers the SAT test and who also runs test prep programs to help students score better on their tests – well, the College Board has agreed to provide four college application fee waivers to income sensitive students who take their test. How about the College Board waiving the cost for the test to low-income students? And if the College Board was really going to go all in, why not give low-income students the test prep for free also? Oh wait, that cuts into their profits. Low-income students don’t have the resources to pay for expensive test prep programs like wealthy kids and this in itself puts them at a disadvantage. Maybe colleges should stop using SAT tests for low-income students as part of the admission process. This is a novel idea!

And good news! Yale, Harvard, Princeton and the University of Virginia are teaming up to send 300 low-income students back to their home communities to talk about their experience. Plus, they are going to mail 20,000 pieces of direct mail to low-income students and hold 18 sessions in cities where Ivy League applications are historically low. It’s a bit like taking foie gras to a soup kitchen and telling them this delicious meal is what they should be eating. Are these schools opening up more slots, displacing legacy students and high income, high SAT students? Yeah, that’s funny too.

More to come on this topic but please, White House, consider hosting a summit for community college presidents, faculty and students if you really want help with reaching more low-income students. Maybe the biggest laugh yet. I kill me.

My parents live in the mountains of West Virginia; it is where I grew up. Recently, there was a chemical leak into the public water system that shut down nine counties in southern West Virginia. The event has been shrouded in controversy about how and why Freedom Industries allowed 7,500 gallons of 4-methlcyclohezane methanol (MCHM) to leak into the Elk River that supplies water to over 300,000 people.

Poisoned Water in West Virginia

Poisoned Water in West Virginia

Matt Stroud (@ssttrroouudd), who lives in the area, wrote an interesting article that gives both the factual account of what happened along with his personal account of how this impacted his family. Although there is enough blame to go around, this accident highlights is just how fragile some of the very basic infrastructure systems actually are.

This got me wondering whether there are any areas of higher education that could be this vulnerable. Any institution that has a significant online presence knows two minutes of unplanned downtime creates a panic and results in hundreds of frantic calls to the help desk. I have seen institutions switching learning management systems have to shut down for two weeks, locking students out from their work. Consider the potential for state authorization to wreak havoc. I am not sure many people truly know or understand the various implications of compliance for institutions of higher education.

Perhaps the biggest threat to hundreds, if not thousands of institutions, however, is Title IV funding. While there is a constant threat of reducing funding, Pell and other programs have weathered the storm. Currently, the government controls how, when, and to whom the funds are dispersed.  Can you imagine the fall out if the federal government decided to give the funds directly to the student instead of giving the funds to the institution for disbursement?  Or even worse, what if the feds instituted subjective criteria like quality as a means for allocating student aid?

Whitehouse College Score Card

White House College Score Card

If you think this could never happen, then you should check out the White House website on higher education, complete with an institutional scoreboard and a promise to shift federal funds to institutions that are the most cost effective at delivering degrees.

To keep tuition from spiraling too high and drive greater value, the President has proposed reforms to federal campus-based aid programs to shift aid away from colleges that fail to keep net tuition down, and toward those colleges and universities that do their fair share to keep tuition affordable, provide good value, and serve needy students well. These changes in federal aid to campuses will leverage $10 billion annually to help keep tuition down.

While the intent behind this change is good, inevitably there are some unintended yet significant implications for-profit institutions and private not-for-profit liberal arts institutions that rely so heavily on federal student loans because their tuition costs are well beyond community colleges and most state institutions.

West Virginians could not dream of the impact a leak from one plant would have on the most basic elements of their daily life – water. While I have speculated what might be higher education’s 4-methlcyclohezane methanol in the water, no one really knows what will happen. But I have a feeling it could be big.

Net NeutralityYesterday, the Supreme Court struck down key components of the FCC’s Open Internet Rules, effectively ending Net Neutrality. So why did this not make the news? Why are online education providers not screaming? Maybe most people just don’t care, or don’t know what it means, but they sure should.

In the most simplistic terms, net neutrality means that all Internet traffic should be treated as equal. Sounds fair enough, until you look at the other side of the equation. This greatly benefits bandwidth hogs, like Netflix and YouTube, who are able (and willing) to pay higher fees to consume more Internet bandwidth in a minute than the average Joe uses in a month.

NetNeutraltyWhile Netflix can afford to pay a higher premium to be able to stream endless hours of content at the highest speeds to their subscribers, how can a consortium of community colleges in Kansas afford to deliver hours of online education to thousands of students via the Internet? They simply cannot afford to pay the same rates as the media monoliths, rendering students helpless and frustrated as they move through their online coursework at the speed of Methuselah, relegated to the bottom of the bandwidth.

Adding insult to injury, the flush for-profit education giants, like the University of Phoenix, will be able to buy more bandwidth, leaving the smaller private online institutions in the virtual dust.  If your institution has an online presence, you might want to pay close attention to this ruling and the impact it could have on your students.

This is the much anticipated, yet vastly misunderstood Web 3.0. What are your thoughts? Please share below.

bball2 data

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a common theme emerged from all the keynotes, exhibitions, and entertainment: data.  Throughout five days of walking miles through a labyrinth of exhibit halls, I observed hundreds of vendors from all over the world trying to communicate how their product gathers, processes and manipulates data.

Everything we do generates data that can be collected, analyzed and manipulated.  Working out generates data.  While some of the personal fitness items I observed simply gather and display data like heart rate, calories burned and blood pressure, more complex products process the data and make recommendations to the user. Mundane tasks, like driving, provided enough data for engineers to create a driverless car.  Using a football-sized outdoor display, participants at CES were given the opportunity to strap themselves into a driverless car, take a ride through an obstacle course and finally park, all without the need of human assistance. While it is scary to think about thousands of driverless cars going down the road, it is a fabulous display of how the car’s computer gathers, processes, and manipulates data in real time.


Now, even playing basketball creates data. One of the most innovative products at CES is a regulation-size basketball with a built-in processing unit that will analyze thousands of data points to help the basketball player perfect their shooting skills. Coaches and players can review the data and make corrections to improve performance through individualized training.  Coaches no longer need to sit through hours of bad game tapes.

So why are we afraid of data in higher education? We are good at gathering the data.  Student information systems collect and house a plethora of data. Oh, we have data.  What we don’t have, however, is access to that data.  Far too often, the data is difficult to extract from the database, or the data is presented in a format that is unintelligible to the average user.  Worse yet, some IT departments restrict access the data, making it off limits to many of the departments that could benefit from it most. And while those are real concerns, they can be resolved. The biggest challenge, once the data is in the hands administrators and faculty, is to use that data to drive change – the kind of change that impacts teaching and learning.

Data is everywhere. CES showed me how easy it is to get and some really cool things people can do with it.  If we can get it in the hands of our administrators, faculty and staff, and challenge them to use it in new and innovative ways, I think we will see some amazing results.

The Jetsons - Robot
The Jetsons

The Jetsons

Remember The Jetsons? George Jetson had the coolest gadgets – a flying car that folded up into a brief case and a robot named Rosie that cooked, cleaned, organized and ran the house. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a huge section of the exhibit space was dedicated to robots.

Hundreds of people crowded down several aisles to watch vendors demonstrate their robotic products. There are some amazing uses for robots; police departments use them to perform tasks that are too dangerous for human officers, like disarming bombs. Manufacturers use robots to perform repetitive tasks with consistent precision. There are even robots for everyday use, like the Roomba vacuum that allows you to come home from work to a clean house, well… at least a clean floor.

But even with all of the hype, the robots have not, for all practical purposes, evolved to the point where they can function independently without human intervention. The technology is close, but somewhere in all the lines of code and circuitry is the work of a human hand.  So you can rest assured, at least for another year, that we humans will not be replaced by robots.  PHEW!

MOOCs are education’s robots. They are kind of cool. Everybody wants one. But the reality is that MOOCs, like robots, have not lived up to the hype. Although some people placed the burden of driving change in higher ed squarely on the virtual shoulders of the MOOC, like robots, MOOCs can’t do it alone.

I would be willing to bet Rosie the Robot would not have to use a broom to dislodge the Roomba from my curtains.