Colleagues and friends,
I am sorry I missed last week’s edition of Monday Musings; I simply could not find a moment to sit down to compose my thoughts. I was fully engaged with the work at hand and the tyranny of the urgent that comes with this season. However, I am back this week.
This time of year brings so much activity. There are applications to review, decisions to process, award letters to create, phone calls to complete, programs to plan, year-end solicitations to prospects and so many other things.
There is no good way to prioritize these things since everything must get done and everything has a deadline.
But, I must admit that it is under these conditions that I thrive! Furthermore, I see so many of my colleagues thrive similarly at this important time of year. This is something for which I am incredibly grateful.
While it may seem like we are concluding things, as we cross things off our lists, it’s important to remember that none of the things we are doing now is really an end. In fact, this demanding time of year in higher education, especially in External Relations, is just like the Church’s Advent.
This is really a season of preparation and anticipation. While some of the work we will do, like getting a certain number of offers of admission out by Christmas Break or encouraging calendar year-end gifts, feels final, it’s not. The work we do right now sets the stage for everything we do following January 1. Our own little advent is what prepares us to meet and exceed our goals.
How do you view December? Does it represent and beginning or an end for you? How will you view the next two weeks as we move toward our break?
A thought article I can’t get out of my mind
I am thoroughly enjoying George Anders’ “You can do anything: The surprising power of a ‘useless’ liberal arts education.” The book is uplifting and reminds me exactly why liberal arts colleges are so important within the higher education landscape. In fact, I am going to buy a copy of the book in hard cover so I can wave it around when speaking to prospective students and parents.
I will shout at the top of my lungs, “this book needs to be on your required reading list as you go through your college search!”
Throughout the book, Anders shares vignettes about students who attended liberal arts colleges or majored in a traditional liberal arts field. The stories he shares are terrific and the graduates he profiles are compelling, refreshing and reassuring about the value and power of liberal arts education. In my view, Anders provides a framework for us to think contemporarily about the skills developed through the liberal arts.
For me, these skills seems to be particularly well outlined in a chapter about the types of questions some of the highest profile companies in the world ask during the interview process.
Here are the questions that Anders shares:
Are you a problem solver? Can you act on opportunities? Can you find creative solutions? Can we trust you to make the go/no-go decisions?
Can you build a team? Can you balance different perspectives and agendas? Can you understand the big picture? Can you manage through influence?
Can you inspire confidence? Can you energize others to embrace change? Are you concise and organized? Can you convey information effectively?
Anders maintains that these questions can be answered affirmatively and enthusiastically by liberal arts graduates!!!
I agree. And, I hope you do, too.
This framework may help us challenge prospective students and parents in the college search and selection process. Perhaps we need to recollect the US Army’s call of “Be all that you can be.” Maybe we need to challenge prospective students to be: problem solvers, creative thinkers, team-builders big picture thinkers, inspirational leaders, trusted to make the call, and, the one who acts on opportunity.
I hope you will take time to read the book and be inspired in the same way I am.
Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)
Meet Mr. and Mrs. Gen X: A new parenting generation— While doing some research for a recent webcast, I ran across this article from 2010. The author is Neil Howe, who was a co-author of “Millennials Rising,” which served as a Bible for understanding millennial students.
This article is one of the very best I’ve read about the generation of parents with whom we are working today. As I read the article and thought about our work and communication with parents, I found myself thinking that we have opportunities for improvement. I also came to terms with the fact that I am a Gen X parent and much of what Howe describes resonates with me.
If you don’t have time to read this article, here are a couple of suggestions about communicating with Gen X parents that Howe provides:
Assume no trust. Market to them, spell out the rules and start relationships early
Stress personal accountability and personal contribution
Offer data, standards, transparency and return on investment
Offer real-time service (the “Fed-Ex” test)
Present your school as the best parent choice in a competitive market
Prepare for the modular “opt-out” consumer and the innovative high-tech competitor.
When I review this list, there are a couple of things that make me very nervous about what we do and how we serve Gen X parents.
What do you think? Are our messages and efforts aligned with the expectations of Gen X parents?
Motivation: Making things happen—The most recent CASE Newsletter has a nice summary of some of the things leaders can do to keep people motivated. I thought the advice was worth sharing and it is relevant to all of us, whether we working with students or professional employees.
Here’s what’s recommended:
Foster strong office relationships
Celebrate your passion.
Which of these can you apply in your daily work?
Another crappy idea I had
When I moved to Augustana College in 2005 I left behind a team I’d personally built. I’d hired almost everyone on staff and we worked very well together—we were a finely tuned machine and understood each other very well.
At Augustana I inherited a large, experienced team and they knew very little about me, my work ethic or my leadership style. I knew this from the very beginning. I also knew I needed to act.
I tried something that, looking back, was a pretty crappy idea.
Having been an athlete in high school and college, I have used countless athletic metaphors about teams, teammates and team success over the years. However, I decided to take a different path and tried to use a musical metaphor. I’ve been kind of embarrassed about this incident since then.
I drew upon the seamlessness with which the team at Elizabethtown operated and decided to draw upon jazz as a metaphor for how I’d like the team at Augustana to operate..
I assembled the entire team in a conference room and then decided to trot out one of my favorite jazz tunes, “So what,” by Miles Davis. I explained the tune; tired to paint a picture in everyone’s mind and I explained what I heard in it, and how I thought it should relate to the team at Augustana. I described that this tune demonstrated some of the key elements of successful teamwork, which I highlighted as being self-awareness, self-discipline and selfishness, when needed.
And, then I made everybody listen to it. It was pretty dumb idea. I think everyone left the room thinking that I was a fool, which may have been a pretty fair assessment at the time.
However, since that time a video of a recording session of the tune has surfaced on YouTube that showcases the elements I was trying to illustrate (ineffectively) that day. I wonder now if it would have been anymore effective if people were able to see, rather than just hear.
Something for you (and me) to think about
While navigating a chapter entitled “The Problem Solvers” in “You can do any thing: The surprising power of a ‘useless’ liberal arts education,” I read this quote from, attributed to Tim O’Reilly, “…life improves when citizens are ‘willing to spend money to educate other people’s children.’” This is a very powerful statement and deserves some reflection at this time when we see state and federal governments cutting back on education spending and there is more resistance than ever before to the cost of higher education. While it would be easy to get very discouraged about the state of affairs in higher education and the perceived changes in support of higher education, I remain optimistic.
I look to programs like Augustana’s Close the Gap Scholarship program through which donors commit to a multi-year gift that enables high-achieving, high-need students to attend the college. I look to and celebrate those families who don’t haggle and negotiate their financial aid award, knowing that some of what they pay will help other students experience a high-quality, liberal arts college education. I also think of the many corporations and foundations that support higher education a part of their mission. There are many who are doing a great deal to support higher education.
However, I think our challenge, as leaders in higher education, is to begin thinking more strategically, gathering more data and committing to make a more compelling and convincing case for education in this country. We can’t sit back and wait for another administration or a change of leadership in the House or the Senate. We’re losing. And, too many people remain unconvinced that spending on education improves life, society and our country.
We must fight harder than ever before to convince the skeptics among us that life improves when others are will to spend money to educate other people’s children.
Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?
If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add them to the list. I try to get one of these out every Monday. And, you can read past issues of my musings at my blog @bowtieadmission