EAB’s Sally Amoruso hosts a wide-ranging discussion with influential Arizona State University President, Michael Crow. The two discuss the role of technology in helping institutions serve more students and the value of challenging the kind of antiquated thinking that pervades higher education.
Dr. Crow also reminds university leaders that their institution should not be judged by how many students they exclude but by how many they accept and help to succeed.
0:00:14.2 Speaker 3: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today, we are honored to have as our guest the President of Arizona State University, Dr. Michael Crow. Dr. Crow shares a somewhat surprising insight on what he believes makes him different from many other higher ed leaders and he shares tips on the best way to drive change at your institution. Give him a listen and enjoy.
0:00:44.2 Sally Amoruso: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Sally Amoruso, and I'm EAB's chief partner officer. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by the leader of one of the most innovative universities in the country, if not the most, President Michael Crow of Arizona State University. Welcome to the podcast, Michael.
0:01:01.3 Michael Crow: Hey, Sally, happy to be here.
0:01:04.3 SA: So Michael, you became ASU's President 20 years ago, and I'd love for you to take us back to that time, because it's easy to look at all that you've built and not recognize that it was a journey. So tell us what you were facing in terms of challenges and opportunities when you first took the job?
0:01:21.2 MC: Well, first, Sally, thanks for that question, 'cause it really is the case that it's been a long time and people don't realize how challenging innovation is in higher education and in education specifically, but higher education even more. I was sitting at Columbia University, where I'd been for 11 or 12 years before that as a faculty member and as deputy provost and as the chief research officer over there, and I'd decided that I really wanted to take everything that I had learned at Columbia and everything that I had learned at other places that I've been and see if one could build something that lots of university presidents had been calling for. So there was a guy named Frank Roads, who had been the President of Cornell, who wrote a book called 'Creating the Future'. And he talked about all the things that he wanted to achieve when he was President at Cornell University and he wasn't able to achieve. There was another guy named Jim Duderstad, who was the President of the University of Michigan. There were a number of philosophers that had been talking for years and years, decades in fact, about what universities in democratic societies were supposed to be able to do.
0:02:21.7 MC: There had been a movement to create urban land grants, universities that were really devoted to the success of the cities as opposed to the success of the agricultural economy, like the original design for the land grants. And so I was sort of synthesizing all of that, talking to all those people and decided that, wouldn't it be great if you could find a place where there was an open-mindedness to a new model? Arizona was that place. I looked at Colorado and... The places I looked at as states, not as institutions, were Washington, Colorado, and Arizona, which is where I thought the soil, if you will, for innovation in higher education was fertile enough that one could get something going. The job came open at Arizona State. I was selected to be the president. A whole gaggle of people came with me from Columbia University, and our mission here was, "Could you build America's model of a truly democratic, egalitarian, highly successful, scalable institution?" And so the challenges were daunting. American higher education is... Cherishes most selectivity, cherishes after selectivity basically identity derivative of individual action, of both individuals and institutions. And there's nothing inherently wrong with those things, they're just not as democratic or as egalitarian as American public universities would need to be.
0:03:53.5 MC: So the challenges here were how would you take a major scale evolving regional university and evolve it to be simultaneously unbelievably accessible and unbelievably excellent? And the notion is you can't do those two things together. And it had been tried in various ways, so the challenges were, initially, design rejection. And so, I decided to take a design approach to everything. I presented a design aspiration, several design aspirations detailed with specificity at the time of my appointment, the notion of a new American university model articulated from day one of entering. And then, the case was how could you ever achieve this? How could this ever work? How could we do this without the government as the principal funder of the institution? And so, lots of skepticism, lots of concern, lots of worry. The institution was under-performing, but the opportunity was massive. And so the challenge... I mean, sorry to talk so long here, but the...
0:05:00.3 SA: Please.
0:05:02.1 MC: The challenge was really one of selling the community, both the external community and the university community, on the notion of what would a truly new American university look like? So in fact, just as an interesting thing, I asked a bunch of non-university people in a room I was in with just a couple of weeks ago, "Tell me what a truly American university would look like compared to other places?" And they said, "Well, first it would be very innovative. Second, it would be very egalitarian. Third, it would be scalable and adaptable. Fourth, it would be less bureaucratically rigid. Fifth, it would not rely on the government as its principal means of success." This was all coming from them, and those were all things that we were able to figure out how to do those things here at ASU. So the initial challenge was, how can you build something that has been proven to be, by the industry that we're a part of, to be non-attainable? And a former President of Ohio State University, a big scale public university like we are, said to me, "The easiest path to your success, Michael, is to cut the bottom half of your freshman class out, the B students, admit only A students, and build a world-class medical school, and the reputation of ASU will become instantaneously superior."
0:06:23.0 SA: Wow.
0:06:26.0 MC: Now, I said to that person... I said to that person, well, we're not doing either of those things, we're gonna do the opposite. We're not gonna build a medical school, we're gonna work with all the medical schools and all the hospitals. And we're not gonna cut out the bottom of the freshman class, we're gonna maintain egalitarian admission standards. And then he said, "Well, you're gonna be in big trouble then, it's gonna be almost impossible." 20 years later, big trouble avoided, problems addressed, challenges addressed, and a new kind of institution born.
0:06:56.8 SA: Remarkable, and you were able to break some really difficult compromises in that process. So when I talk about the ASU's story with other presidents, it's often easy for them to say, "Well, that's ASU and that's Michael Crow, and that you need to be Michael Crow to be able to make such transformation happen." The force of your personality and so forth. Do you really think, just honestly, that that was really the core of your ability to lead this change or was there more...
0:07:32.4 MC: No, I only have one advantage over other people, and that is it's incapable for me to give up. And so that's the only advantage that I had. So for a strange reason, my wife likes this. My wife, Sibyl, loves this. I wake up every day as if it's the first day. I wake up every day carrying none of the baggage of the previous day, and that's just always been the way that I've been. So that gives me this much advantage in really complicated things, just a sliver of advantage. It's not just me, it's not just ASU, and it's not just Arizona, it's none of those things. It's what are you committed to? What is your reason for existence? So we actually derived a charter for the university, the ASU charter has three very clear elements: We will not measure our success based on who we exclude, but who we include and how they succeed. And this was before the big everything inclusive movement. This was before all of that. The second thing about our charter is that we'll do research that measurably benefits the public. Meaning the measurement of success is not only academic success, but the public success. And the last part of our charter is that we are responsible for the outcome of our communities.
0:08:42.4 MC: If K-12 is failing, if economic progress is going down, if cultural division is rife everywhere, we're responsible, we contribute to that. If we're producing the college graduates who are the leaders, the business leaders, the principals, the teachers, the engineers, the designers, the social workers, then we produce the people that produce those outcomes. And so the second that we got buy-in on a charter which had social-level responsibility, everything changed, everything changed. And so it's that universities don't see themselves as socially responsible, they see themselves as politically responsible or responsible to their trustees or something like that. And so it's not about me, the person, I just happen to be one that is slower to give up. And so the key is, in fact, not to make this into a unicorn model. ASU is not a unicorn. We're not a unicorn in any shape at all. We are an emergent design of what a more democratic new American university could be. Now, to do that, you have to change faculty culture, which is possible. You have to embrace technology to enhance your teaching outcomes. You have to embrace innovation as a continuous process. And those are hard for higher education and education institutions in general, but it's not insurmountable, it's just hard. Who cares about hard? Hard is good. That makes it more fun.
0:10:18.4 SA: That's good. So when I think about your charter, which... And that's a fantastic set of objectives and goals to have. I look at a lot of strategic plans and they are often a declaration of equally worthy aspirations for institutions. However, you went from charter to making some strategic bets, some big strategic bets early in your tenure. Can you talk about some of those, and also maybe some of those that didn't work out beautifully? Because it's easy to write the story of the big bets online and...
0:10:53.9 MC: Interestingly, we have no strategic plan. We've never had a strategic planning process. We have no strategic planning reports. We have nothing. We have the articulation of the following three things every year for 20 years. Now I go back to the bet.
0:11:08.9 SA: Yes.
0:11:09.4 MC: So we have the charter. We have what we call our design aspirations, which are how we're going to try to implement the charter. And then we have a very specified set of goals; goals relative to the four aspects that we think are most important to the success of the university. Everything is measured against those, and then what we begin... So let's take one of the design aspirations: Intellectual fusion. So we basically said, "Do we really need more political science departments? Do we just need to build another economics department, another this, another this, another this?" And the answer was no. So we decided to build as many transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and post-disciplinary entities as we possibly could, not just for the sake of doing it, but for the sake of advancing and broadening out human knowledge, human training, human learning, all these things, more pathways for learners. Now, we've done 35 or 40 of those major redesigns, not all of them have worked to the same level. Some have been marginally successful, some have been wildly successful, so there's variations in how those things come and go.
0:12:15.5 MC: I mean, the thing that we really focused on was changing the culture, so changing the culture from faculty-centrism to student centrism, changing the measurement of success from university outcomes or department outcomes to social outcomes. And so in all of those, there have been some things that worked and some things that didn't work. And so we look at this as a continuous design process. So when something doesn't work, we change it, we redesign it, we move it forward, or we kill it and then do something different. And so most universities aren't acculturated to work that way. In terms of big failures, there haven't been any of those. There have been lots of small failures, medium-sized failures that we've then worked our way around. Dozens and dozens and dozens of those. And we made those kinds of failures a part of the process. "Well, that design didn't work, so let's do something different." So that's what I mean by continuous innovation, continuous innovation is replacing what didn't work with something that's better, augmenting something that isn't optimized with something that does optimize. But we really spend most of our time on culture change.
0:13:19.8 SA: So, let's talk about that, because you earlier said that it is possible to change faculty resistance.
0:13:27.8 MC: Yes.
0:13:27.8 SA: And you talked about going from a faculty-centric culture to a student-centric culture. Like in concrete terms, how did you actually accomplish that? Because that is just a really tough road for a lot of institutions.
0:13:43.1 MC: Well, it is because they live inside what's called a classic bureaucratic organizational construct, so they operate and behave as classic bureaucracies. And so, therefore, the faculty are... Their authority, their intellectual authority is removed. They then are involved mostly in resource arguments among and between other faculties. So it becomes a classic what's called conserver bureaucracy, using Anthony Downs' logic of bureaucracy. So you have to have some elements of bureaucracy, but we moved away from conserver model and we moved to a design empowerment model for our faculty. You can design your degrees, your trajectories your courses, your programs, you can take responsibility for what you want to be as a faculty, you're no longer constrained. Now, let's take a unit like Anthropology, so we used to have an Anthropology department with one degree: Anthropology. A logic called Anthropology. The discipline and the department were the same thing? Well, how would that be possible? How would the design of your administrative unit be the same as your intellectual design? That's almost absurd. And so, what we said was, what would you design if you could design it and be what you really want it to be? So, that faculty...
0:14:54.2 MC: Not all of them, but 80% of them said, "Well, we'd like to focus on human evolution and social change. We'd like to focus on how we evolved as a species. We'd like to look at how that evolution then contributed to social change. We'd like to be like a time machine. We'd like to move back in time as far as we can go. We'd like to understand all of the cultures that exist now. We'd like to study where culture is going and all the forces that will drive it, like climate change." So now we don't have one degree, we have five or six undergraduate degrees, many more undergraduate majors, a much broader faculty, and one of the degrees is called Anthropology. And so what we did was that faculty then became intellectually excited about their intellectual design rather than basically people that did their academic work, taught their courses and then fought in bureaucratic infighting inside some bureaucratic structure. So that's the way that we approached it. And I'm just telling you that that has been not uniformly, but extensively, unbelievably powerful.
0:15:55.8 SA: So that answers one part of my question, which is that you released the constraints and you empowered the faculty to be part of the design effort. And I get that, and that's tremendously powerful. It doesn't answer the student-centricity part. How did you...
0:16:10.6 MC: So the student-centric part was... Yeah, so that was really, are we really here for you to be a faculty member or are we really here to prepare the next warriors for the success of our economic democracy? And so were we gonna produce great conductors and musicians, and scientists and engineers, and business entrepreneurs and actors, and all the things that we needed to be a part of helping to produce. Or were we here for you the faculty member? And so what we said is, "Let's be here for the student first, let's be here for the community second. And then if we do those two things, the faculty will get everything that they need." We're not here for you. This university is not built so that the faculty can have the students to pay for their existence. And so it's okay if other universities don't wanna work that way, but this big, massive polyglot of an unbelievably socially-engaged public university must exist for a student-centric set of outcomes. And the majority of the faculty eventually got there, so much so now that we basically attract faculty, fantastic faculty of unbelievable academic ability who want to be in that culture. And in my view, that's what most public universities should be.
0:17:34.4 SA: Yes, so how do you and the faculty and the community of ASU, how do you define student success?
0:17:44.5 MC: So student success for us is that we take the broadest spectrum of students that you can imagine, we have as many degrees as we can possibly offer, more than 400, and we're trying to accelerate that to 500, so we don't believe in fewer degrees, we believe in more degrees. We believe in all of the basic fundamental models of Howard Gardner, in terms of Multiple Intelligences...
0:18:08.8 SA: Multiple...
0:18:10.3 MC: Yes. And so, student success is we find a learning path for a student, we empower their learning, we're not... I don't care if we're producing an engineer or an actor or a scientist or a philosopher, that's up to them. What we're producing is a master learner. So the measurement of student success is, have we empowered the learning capability of the individual from the broadest spectrum of student backgrounds? And so at Columbia where I used to be, they had a few dozen undergraduate majors. You couldn't major in this, this, this, or this, because someone on the faculty thought that was dirty. You couldn't major in journalism as an undergraduate, but you could as a graduate student, but only for nine months. There were all these cultural paradigms of what the university could be or couldn't be.
0:19:00.0 MC: All fine for Columbia, but in the world that we live in... So the students going to Columbia are curatorially selected one by one, by one, by one, by one, because they already fit the mold of what the university is having to offer and what they're offering is fantastic and it's an unbelievable environment, but it's too narrow for the empowerment of the total society. That's really the empowerment of gifted students from high schools, and that's like 1% of the population. And it doesn't mean that that 1% is necessarily better or smarter or more enabled than everyone else, it just means that those kids learn in particular ways, and this is a way to enhance their learning.
0:19:40.1 MC: And so what we've done is, so we built the equivalent of Columbia College inside ASU also called our Barrett Honors College. It has over 8000 students. There are unbelievable intense learners who wanna take 10 majors and study 20 languages, and that's just who they are, but then there's the other kid who wants to study finance while they're running their family business, and they wanna devote as little time as possible to going to college because they're trying to do all kinds of other things. We're like, "Okay, fine". And so we have a pathway for everybody, that's what we're like.
0:20:17.2 SA: Yeah. That's really to choose your own adventure.
0:20:20.0 MC: Yes.
0:20:20.0 SA: So, you made the bet on online very early. Across COVID, we saw all of higher ed convert to at least emergency remote instruction, if not pedagogically robust online instruction. As we're coming out of COVID, a lot of the conversation is around how much of that should remain. And I would love to hear your thoughts and your advice to higher ed leaders about how to think about this modality and the role that it plays in technology more generally as we're coming out of COVID.
0:20:55.8 MC: So it all depends where you set your perspective from. So if you think about us as 400 years into the enlightenment, doing powerful things around the world now with the enablement of capitalism everywhere, including in non-democratic states, it's just unbelievable what's happening around the planet. And then if you realize that we've got these billions of people who have higher and higher aspirations for themselves, their children, their grandchildren, and I mean, including sustainability outcomes, including a green and healthy planet, including the end of poverty and management of disease and better management of pandemics and all these things, the demand for higher levels of education outcomes is like this.
0:21:39.7 MC: And then if you think about what's happened in the United States where more than half the people that have started college never finished, they have no degree, 35, 36 million people, no degree, and most of those people who are burdened by debt of what it took them to pursue the degree. If you start thinking about something other than your college, you start saying to yourself, what technological tools will allow us to project learning in new ways? And so we really looked at this at ASU, there's been no diminishment of our on-campus anything.
0:22:09.0 MC: We're accelerating everything. We'll have 80,000 on-campus students fully immersed with us. In the fall, we're gonna grow that to 95,000 or 100,000. We're expanding the numbers of majors, we're expanding the research activity, we're approaching a billion dollars of research funding in the next decade or so, that's unbelievable also. All of our faculty are really engaged in all of this. And then we said to ourselves, could we, using technology, educate three other students for every one student we have on campus? Why couldn't we do that? Why couldn't we be of additional service if the technology allowed us to do that? And then we said, and then could we use all of our assets and lower all the force fields of these highly privileged institutions called universities.
0:22:53.4 MC: We're unbelievably privileged and unbelievably... We have unbelievable assets, and we have a world-class library, that's just beyond belief. Why can't everyone use it everywhere in ways in which it produces certain kinds of outcomes without diminishing what our faculty or our students on campus need? And so what we have come away from this with and what I hope other universities and colleges look at is how can we be of even greater benefit to society by taking our nucleus, the on-campus environment. And this is where the for-profit universities don't get this, they have no nucleus, they have no core of knowledge that they're operating from. They basically have procedures, technologies, platforms, and investment capital to try to see if they can sell educational services. Well, that's not what an on-campus university does, and so...
0:23:42.2 MC: Or an on-campus college. So if another 300 colleges and universities decided to project all that they had to any learner anywhere, any scale, any time, any language, any culture, we will accelerate the evolution of our country and we will accelerate the evolution of our species. And some universities have just got to decide that that's what they're gonna do. We couldn't build enough universities, I think somebody told me it's three universities a week to meet the demand for global higher education. Three new universities a week born and completely built, that's not gonna happen. And so we need new ways, and technology is the way for us to do that.
0:24:21.5 SA: And so this speaks to the fact that you've been able to continue to grow without growing your faculty at the same rate, right?
0:24:28.1 MC: Yes, because the technology has become... So our stuff is like... I like to say this to people, so like our stuff is... We've leapfrog... We have leapfrogged all the way up to early Star Trek years, and we're using tools that are many generations ahead of where standard thinking about online education would be; advanced analytic tools, advanced adaptive learning tools, advanced virtual reality tools, advanced ways to enhance learning outcomes. And what we even we are shocked at the outcomes, people are getting through calculus that weren't getting through it before. People mastering college algebra at three times the normal rate. And so what we found is that the university can become... Think of it like this: We become like a knowledge city, and we plug in all this stuff that allows many, many, many other people to come in and partake of what the city has to offer without having to physically be here or without having to change their life at age 32 to go back and get their biology degree or their nursing degree.
0:25:37.0 SA: So, let's stay on that topic for a bit because I was at ASU+GSV, and many of the exhibitors there were showing different applications for VR, AR, machine learning. If you were to think forward a decade, how could those capabilities actually amplify what you're talking about, in terms of scalability and impact and effectiveness?
0:26:05.5 MC: I can give a great answer to that because one of those companies we have partnered with a company, called Dreamscape Immersive, and then we've built a Joint Venture called Dreamscape Learn. And we just completed a few weeks ago our first semester of 1000 undergraduates taking a biology laboratory in virtual reality, where the lab is not on the earth, the lab is in an alien zoo orbiting the Earth. 8 miles across, 10 miles across, 2 miles high. Designed by an unbelievable brain called Steven Spielberg. So the design of this alien zoo is as robust as any science fiction movie you could ever imagine, but now you go to the zoo as a student and you become a scientist using this with other students and you're fully immersed now. Here's what we just...
0:26:50.5 MC: This early, early, early results, the median score of the labs from our virtual reality alien zoo experience in virtual reality, the median score is 95 on a scale of 100. Now, what that tells us is all outcomes are altered because we've triggered a new way of learning. So the advantage of the advantage of the metaverse in this sense, not the company, but the metaverse and the advantage of virtual reality is that it activates a part of human thinking and human learning in subjects that we're doing poorly in, math and science in particular. And so we're like... And I never have a chance to get over here, but you should come.
0:27:29.4 MC: If you come here or to Los Angeles, we can show you something where you will leave it, we had an investor here yesterday, and you will realize that the threshold has been crossed and that virtual reality is not just the tools that... So we're allowed... So we have spent two years during COVID building an entire pedagogy for three biology courses. While we built 10 other biology courses completely in adaptive learning modalities. And so we now have a fully ensconced science-driven, unbelievable biology degree that we think anyone that is literate could now master biology. And so if you wanna be a biologist, you don't have to say, "Well, I was never good in science." Who cares? "I'm not good in math." Who cares? Because this teaches you those subjects in a new and different way. So this is hot for us. This has been a big deal for us during COVID.
0:28:22.8 SA: That's remarkable and really exciting. But now let me take us back... Bring us back to Earth a little bit.
0:28:31.5 MC: Yeah, okay, literally.
0:28:33.1 SA: Literally.
0:28:33.3 MC: Virtually.
0:28:37.1 SA: And virtually. So, our audience is really higher ed leaders that are in a different place than you are. You're talking about really being on the bleeding edge of this application. Many of them are thinking, do we continue to invest in online? Should we launch a program? Should we try to maintain high flex? And for those sort of mid or even smaller sized institutional leaders, how would you counsel them on thinking about technology and online coming out of COVID?
0:29:08.3 MC: Well, if you can find ways to partner with those that have technology, we have 300 technology partners that we've worked with, if you can find other universities to work with, if you don't have all the capability yourself, and there are some that are out there, technology will give you dramatically additional optionality for the success of your institution. So we're launching a whole series of new degrees called ASU Sync, S-Y-N-C, those would be degrees that we learned during COVID you don't have... You can be living in Singapore or British Columbia or in rural areas north of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and you wanna take the degree, but you wanna be in class, you wanna be interacting with everyone, so that's all possible now.
0:29:55.7 MC: So we're launching ASU Sync degrees, in addition to ASU immersion degrees on campus, in addition to ASU online degrees. And so what that means then for your... For a college presidents and university presidents is that you have an ability to take your fantastic faculty, empower them with technology and basically generate all the resources that you need for your institution to be successful because... And if you don't believe this, I'm happy to talk to you, the market for higher education is insatiable. It's off the charts. Demand for everything that we do; individual courses, learning experiences, synchronous degrees, asynchronous degrees, online degrees, on-campus degrees.
0:30:35.0 MC: People say, "Well, there's fewer high school graduates." Are you kidding me? There's more and more and more people that need more and more and more education. And the traditional colleges and universities are, in a sense, giving it up to the market, to the for-profit entities, some of whom are good and many of whom are not, but they're just giving it up to them. And in a sense then the smaller college or the university is not leveraging their core asset, which is their faculty, their library, their culture, their teaching style, their particular angle on the world. And so what one wants to do is stop being basically rural, isolated, cottages and start projecting their force and their capability.
0:31:23.0 SA: So, many of these institutions have been moving into the online space, and the reality is that several of their programs are under-enrolled or they don't feel like they can compete from a marketing standpoint. They don't seem to be able to find those students that are seeking that kind of education.
0:31:39.5 MC: Yeah. I'll tell you one of the reasons is that they're not thinking... They're just thinking, "Let's just take what we have and make that available." And so we actually spend some time doing that, and sometimes that works. And we also spend a lot of time on what do people want? And so it turns out that if you imagine that higher education is broadly scoped versus narrowly scoped, then you come up with new kinds of degrees. We found a market for new kinds of online engineering degrees. We found markets for new ways to teach nursing or new ways to teach... We found an unbelievable opportunity in digital photography coming out of our School of the Arts.
0:32:23.2 MC: We built a partnership with the World War II Museum in New Orleans. And now we have a master's degree in the history of World War II with hundreds of master students. And it's a fantastic degree, our faculty love it. We appointed some of the museum staff as professors of practice or adjunct faculty. And so the other thing is, people want to learn, but they may want something different than traditional mashed potatoes. They may want things made in a different way. And so what we found is that it's... There is no shortage of people that want to learn it's just that universities are so fixed and colleges are so fixed in a single mode of thinking: Kids coming out of high school, kids coming to graduate school. Now that may be fine for some colleges and universities, but then others have got to break out of that. Some have, many are, many more should, and the market is insatiable.
0:33:16.1 SA: And it goes back to your original point about design thinking and putting the students and their needs at the center, which...
0:33:22.1 MC: Yeah. So we have a program with Starbucks company. We have 22,000 Starbucks partners, that's what they call their employees, as admitted students pursuing degree programs in which we worked out a way in which they are scholarshipped for the entirety of their costs. We have thousands of Starbucks partners who were not admittible to the university 'cause they didn't do well in high school or they didn't take the right courses, who are in our Pathways Program, who are becoming admittible. We have hundreds of thousands of Starbucks partners and family members who are in our learning academy that's been constructed.
0:34:04.2 MC: And so all of that required us to basically say to ourselves, did we care about the 200,000 people working for Starbucks across the country, who they care about, who went to college and didn't finish? So we actually decided that we care about these people, we'd like to be helpful to them. And so we found a company that also cared about them, that we could work on a financial structure and a financial plan to make this work. And then those students, I was at what we call our Starbucks CRI Fest a few weeks ago when hundreds of them show up with their parents and their families for our physical graduation, and then they tell their story. It is unbelievable.
0:34:39.8 MC: So one kid had gone to Princeton. I don't know if he had flunked out of Princeton or left for a family matter or whatever. And then he comes back and he just completed the ASU online degree in electrical engineering. And he was now talking about all the things that he was gonna be able to do, and his dad was crying and everybody was upset, and so people... Colleges and universities, most of them, when someone is out, they're gone. They're looking for the next freshman. They're looking for the next transfer student, and so we don't... In my view, we don't take enough responsibility for the social outcomes of our broader society. I don't think we take enough responsibility as a sector for the havoc that we have also wreaked on our broader society. We have tens of millions of people that have debt and went to college and have no degree and no certificate.
0:35:35.4 SA: Indeed. I wanna be respectful of your time. So, in closing, as we're coming out of COVID, what would be the one or two pieces of advice you would have for these higher ed leaders? And drawing from the lessons you talked about and your experience, but also in particular sort of this moment where we have a global pandemic, hopefully soon in our rear-view mirror, some financial fragility, certainly across the families, but across institutions as well, some opportunities and some significant challenges. Where would you guide them to focus and take the lessons?
0:36:16.6 MC: Well, I think I'll decide to be somewhat more exacting in my comments...
0:36:23.5 SA: Please.
0:36:27.8 MC: One, if you've gotten into one of these jobs, then go for it, sacrifice yourself. Do whatever you have to do, including getting yourself fired if you have to. And so what I mean by that is you have to drive the change. You can see what's going on around us in our society, so think more broadly than your institution and sacrifice yourself. So I decided a long time ago, I haven't been fired yet, but I'm ready to be fired if necessary to get the things done, to make them happen, to try to move it to the next level. And if you look at the evolution of institutions, public institutions in the United States, they only advanced by courageous innovators. They only advanced by taking risks, so we need to take more risks in this business. The second thing going forward is broaden your conceptualization of yourself. Let's say you're running a small Presbyterian church school in Kansas. Well, there's a lot of Presbyterians, and a lot of Presbyterians didn't finish college that went to college. How do you reach them and educate them? Meaning, think more broadly than your box that you're in or your terrain.
0:37:28.0 MC: I think the other thing is start banding together for something other than political objectives. Start figuring out how to innovate together, to network together, or even merge together into networks. And so one of the things we tried to get going when I was at Columbia was we said to several other Ivy League schools, couldn't we build a great, unbelievable, most fantastic Italian department imaginable that none of us can afford on our own but we could do it together? And we couldn't get it done because everybody was just too selfish.
0:38:01.5 MC: And so now we have the technology where the fact that one university can also be the faculty at another university, helping the two universities together to achieve things, so we're starting to do more and more of that. So innovate, break the model, move forward. There's a joke that I have about college leadership, particularly presidents and chancellors. And it's like, "Do you wanna do the job? Do you wanna do president? Or do you wanna be the president?" So in academia, a lot of the jobs are seen as honorific. You're given the job because it's your highest achievement of your academic status. Forget that. And I'm really glad that you have all this academic capability and academic status.
0:38:40.7 MC: What do you need to do to help the country to be successful? And how can the institution that you're responsible for be measured against your... Not just the success of your institution, but the success of your region, in your community, in your state, the country. What are we doing in all of those spaces? So I'll give you an example. So people say we need more engineers. You've probably heard that in the United States, right? Yeah, well, 10 years ago, we had 6000 engineering students. This year we have 27,000 engineering students.
0:39:09.1 MC: We're producing a better engineer from a broader set of the population than we ever have in all of our entirety. And our graduates are performing as well as the graduates of The University of Texas, or UCLA, or the University of Washington, or the University of Illinois. Our graduates are doing really well, as is the big public research universities. Only now we're able to produce five times as many of them. And so one has to now start talking about, what does the country need? What does the region need? And I think that's a... That changes your logic when you're thinking about the institution that you're leading.
0:39:40.0 SA: Michael, thank you for the conversation. Thank you for all that you're doing...
0:39:45.1 MC: Thank you, Sally, it was nice to talk with you.
0:39:47.2 SA: Take care.
0:39:54.6 Speaker 3: Thank you for listening. We'll be back with a new episode on July 12. Until then, thank you for your time.
Don't miss a beat
Visit our podcast homepage for additional episodes, information on our expert contributors, and more.