Journalism is among the most revered and important careers in the modern world — but a combination of fast-moving technology and slow shifts in practices has made the profession a shadow of what it once was. Even the most venerable news institutions have been forced to cut staff, reduce distribution, and suffer significant credibility losses.
For those of us in the higher education world, the parallels are both evident and troubling. Technology has fundamentally shifted the way academic institutions operate, from enrollment to development to public relations to online learning to library services. Prospective students now have a wealth of information available at their fingertips, and colleges and universities hoping to keep up must rapidly shift their approach or risk going the way of the newspaper.
Pivot and Protect
Academic institutions are as unique as the people who run and attend them, each with individual specialties and features. Provosts should begin by looking at their highest-performing subject areas and classes, and make sure to shield them from any potential setbacks. Similarly, a landscape analysis of threats to currently-profitable qualifications can be an enlightening guide when the time comes to reallocate resources. The prestige of a coding bootcamp certification, for example, probably will not replace a Computer Science degree anytime soon. However, the traditional MBA is flagging in competition with the wealth of vocational and alternative-path qualifications that offer students the same employment prospects at a fraction of the cost.
Deliberately Engaging Students
One major blow to the newspaper industry was its reluctance to embrace the interactive possibilities of the new media landscape, with journalists desiring to curate and control everything under their aegis. Higher ed institutions should instead embrace the self-renewing possibilities of an active online userbase, encouraging current and former students to create virtual communities where their voices can be heard. This can be achieved through a variety of methods: school-specific messageboards, professional alumni groups on LinkedIn, or even a branded Twitter hashtag.
Measure and Manage
Newspapers’ final mistake was a mistrust of real-time data metrics offered by online content models, instead sticking to traditional reader surveys and marketing projections — with disastrous results. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed: as such, universities should have staff dedicated to tracking, analyzing and reporting on data from student satisfaction to enrollment demographics to graduate career path and more. This is increasingly easier with the prevalence of online classes, but even brick-and-mortar classrooms must get in on the action: incorporating instant-read feedback mechanisms, asking instructors for detailed student reporting, and tracking informal data sources like RateMyProfessor in order to get a big-picture look at what’s going on.
Higher education institutions must build a professional culture that’s as focused on excellence as your academic one. Trust is the key to building high performing teams, and transparency is the key to building trust. As you move forward, be sure to identify and develop new directions coupled with funding opportunities, evaluate organizational strengths and weaknesses, and create a culture that embrace assessment and metrics.