If you could rebuild your institution from scratch tomorrow, what would it look like? Specifically, how would you structure your back-office and student-facing administrative functions? Assume you have no political, budgetary, or cultural limitations. What would you do differently, start doing, or not do at all?
A “blue sky” exploration of the future of higher ed admin functions
My research team has been discussing this question with business leaders and other industry experts across the summer, and the ideas we’ve heard have been provocative, thoughtful, and energizing. In general, they’ve broken down into four interrelated categories:
- Organizational design: Across the industry, leaders agree that their “blue sky” university would share select administrative services, either across campus units or with outside organizations. Smaller institutions would create consortia with other institutions in close geographic proximity, or with a common mission. Large institutions would maximize shared services organizations within their organizations, and perhaps look to provide certain admin services to smaller institutions as alternative revenue streams.
- Technology: Business leaders’ “blue sky” institutions would leverage artificial intelligence to improve customer service levels and reduce manual transactions; for example, they’d use AI solutions to quickly answer customer questions and use bots to perform tedious, repetitive manual tasks. They’d also generate data from Internet of Things technology to reduce building maintenance costs and energy consumption and more quickly identify service outages.
- People: Some business leaders speculate that they’d have fewer staff in their “blue sky” institution, but those staff would have different responsibilities than the staff of today’s world. A “blue sky” workforce would consist of more cross-trained staff, better positioned to address student and faculty problems across a variety of processes or functional areas. While staff profiles would vary by role, they’d generally see more staff trained in business process analysis, project management, and data analysis across their operating units.
- Processes: “Blue sky” institutions would have fully digitized student- and faculty-facing processes to meet today’s customer expectations and shift transactional staff time to higher-value activities, like financial aid counseling and strategic recruitment support. Processes would be designed with the end customer (most notably, the student) in mind.
Importantly, many business leaders recognize that some of these ideas can’t be simply “blue sky”—they need to start laying the groundwork today to respond to changing student expectations and financial pressures. Fortunately, some institutions have already made great progress in transforming their administrative functions. At our 2020 National Meeting, we’ll share some of these innovations and lessons learned from pioneering institutions.
Simulating disruptive new business models
Of course, these admin transformations assume that our institutions are operating under the same business model. But what if tomorrow’s students demand something radically different? How might our institutions respond?
We’ve been discussing this question with college and university presidents, who recognize that evolving student and workforce needs may necessitate disruption the decades ahead. We’ve prepared several interactive exercises to help higher ed executives prepare to respond to disruptive forces. We’ve already facilitated some of these exercises with a few institutional cabinets, and we’re eager to share them with business leaders at our 2020 National Meeting series to continue to drive strategic planning conversations.
With opportunities to network with peers, interact directly with our experts, and discuss how our findings can translate to your organization, business leaders agree that the national meeting is the single most valuable part of their EAB partnership—and we’re looking forward to welcoming you this winter. Save your seat today.