The flaws in higher ed conferences aren’t the fault of the attendees, the speakers, or the organizers—they’re the fault of the format. If we want to truly serve students and alumni, we need the courage to innovate and try something new.
It's a challenge that we who serve alumni tend to take for granted: We have to serve them all.
But that mandate, when you think about it, is a bit absurd. How can we, however large our team, possibly serve every one of our thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of alumni? What can we possibly offer that will appeal to everyone?
After experimenting with a variety of programs and trying to serve all their alumni, Erin Erwin, Senior Associate Director of Career & Professional Development at the IUAA, and Emili Sperling Bennett, Associate Director of Career & Professional Development, decided instead to focus on a smaller piece of the pie: older alumni who need mid-to-late career advice.
If you’ve attended a conference or read articles or, well, done anything, really, in the past few years you’ve likely heard of something called “design thinking.” And if you’re anything like me, you’ve turned your nose up at what seems to be the latest fad out of Silicon Valley.
But design thinking is not business-school jargon. It isn’t pretentious, or fake, or overhyped. It’s actually useful—yes, even to higher ed, with all its quirks.
Change is hard. (See: Newton’s first law of motion). And humans are inherently lazy and creatures of habit. If there is more than one way to do something complex, we will almost always take the easy route. That, or shove it in a drawer so we won’t have to look at it.
So when I decided I wasn’t happy with the way I was looking and feeling about my weight for the umpteenth time, I held on tight to my inertia until a friend invited me to a Weight Watchers meeting.
There are, the saying goes, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
We tend to think about that axiom in the context of politics, where people willfully manipulate numbers to suit their beliefs and goals. But statistical analyses in any context are only as perfect as the people who perform them—which is to say that none of them are.
The predictive scores, algorithms, and other mathematical tools that advancement and alumni teams are increasingly using to evaluate alumni engagement and likelihood to make a gift often obscure reality and, as a result, counterproductively warp our priorities and strategies.
Every engagement or affinity score, or algorithm, or survey result is one or more steps removed from reality. What happens to these numbers in the intervening steps is what makes them powerful, but it is also what should make us wary. Here’s why.
As a former higher education career services administrator now working in edtech, I’m concerned to see institutions sourcing technology solutions without an understanding of the biases that exist in that industry. It’s important for higher ed leaders to assess whether they are sourcing technology through an equity lens and understand how those decisions perpetuate inequality.
I started to grow concerned after returning from the ASU+GSV (Arizona State University + Global Silicon Valley Capital, a venture capital firm) conference this spring. True to its name, the conference attracts education thought leaders, edtech companies, investors, and foundations to discuss the challenges facing education and forge partnerships to solve them.