Higher Ed Remastered: Looking Back on Eduventures Summit 2018

On Thursday, June 14, I attended Eduventures’ Summit 2018: Higher Ed Remastered.
Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin was the opening keynote, and she spoke on leadership in times of disruption.

Over the years, Goodwin has written a number of biographies. In 1967, she was a White House Fellow during the Johnson administration.She has a new book, to be published in September, called Leadership in Turbulent Times. For this keynote, she focused on the presidencies of Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and Johnson. With today’s political climate and the challenging times higher education is facing, Goodwin had many relevant words of wisdom for the Eduventures audience.

Goodwin’s presentation was a strong way to open this Boston conference, where we have seen recent examples of disruption with the acquisition of small private liberal arts colleges by larger universities. The challenges in these transitions have touched higher ed leaders, students, families, and communities across the state of Massachusetts with ripple effects across the region and country. So, what advice can we draw from the careers of U.S. presidents to help us through these turbulent times in higher ed?

Be humble and accountable

It was refreshing to hear Goodwin advise leaders to be humble, learn from mistakes and take on the mistakes of their team members as their own. In disruptive times, new types of challenges arise. New strategies must be tested to face those challenges. Some strategies will fail, but this is part of the learning process. Failure can be acknowledged, accepted with humility and then other strategies brought forth and tested to meet the challenge. This is easy enough to say and to write, but it can be very hard to live it.

A good example of this would be Georgia State University. In a recent story from this year’s ASU GSV Summit, we interviewed Timothy Renick, senior vice president for student success, about the school’s willingness to accept its faults and face some uncomfortable truths in order to embrace change.

One of the challenges that Georgia State faced was improving the graduation and success rates of students of color. According to Renick, about ten years ago, “We stood up and did something that is pretty uncomfortable, which is to ask a simple question: ‘Are we part of the problem?’”

He went on to say that it took a little humility to acknowledge the university’s role in this matter.

“It’s easy to blame others. You know, we often point a finger at K-12 [educational institutions] and say, ‘Well, if they produced better prepared students for us, we’d graduate them at better rates.’ Or, ‘We’ve gone through tough economic times in public education.’”

By acknowledging the role the university played in the problem, Georgia State was able to take ownership of the solution, using data and student feedback to determine what barriers were preventing these students from graduating, and what could be done to support them better.

Be resilient and persistent

As important as humbly acknowledging “learning moments,” is to rise up again and attack the same challenge. There is a doggedness, a persistence that Goodwin speaks about in the presidents she’s researched. This is a quality that all leaders need, especially right now in these difficult times.

Of course, as leaders bring their best ideas and energy every day, they need to remain conscious of who they stand beside.

Be thoughtful of your colleagues

Emotional intelligence is a hot topic in human resources and management training. Goodwin spoke to Lincoln, in particular, as a leader conscious of his own strengths and weaknesses and also able to adeptly relate to the feelings of others. This made him a dynamic leader who drew people to him. This strength also helped him see outside perspectives and therefore make more well-informed decisions.

Goodwin went on to speak of Lincoln’s habit of intentionally writing letters in anger, then never sending them. Words matter. Someone with high emotional intelligence would be reflective on how a recipient of one of the angry letters would receive it. In times of disruption, tensions can overwhelm leaders and remaining conscious of the tone of communication, how others will receive that communication, is vital.

Understand the perspectives of your students

Higher ed leaders are under a lot of scrutiny from many sides, their student audiences being one of the most important. With this in mind, it was valuable that Eduventures’ program included student perspectives. Both students I saw spoke about their unique backgrounds and the challenges they overcame to become successful in college and in life. When we think about college students, we tend to generalize—it was very refreshing to be reminded how different each student is and where they are coming from. The need for emotional intelligence is so crucial when supporting students and their families.

As students and families consider the return on investment for higher education, some groups are collecting new information on their feelings. This leads me to another session at the event, led by Strada Education. Carol D’Amico, executive vice president, presented some findings from research they have underway with Gallup, entitled “From College to Life: Relevance and The Value of Higher Education.”

This work aligns well with the rising topics we have been following here at EdTech Times—with our Student Financial Aid and Debt series, our Bootcamps & Badges series and our work+EDU series. We will continue to explore this space and follow the Strada Education/Gallup research closely. Eduventures continues their own research in many related areas including adult learners, competency-based education, enrollment trends, online learning.

Hester Tinti-Kane

Hester Tinti-Kane

Hester Tinti-Kane is the CEO of EdTech Times. She's worked in digital media and education for over 10 years. Hester is passionate about transformative technology in education and business.