On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, EvoLLLution editor-in-chief and host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by James Wiley to discuss enrollment woes and the shift in technology for modern institutions. This episode was recorded live at Modern Campus's Educause 2022 booth in Denver.
(00:05) Voiceover: Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. We're continuing our CIO radio series where we speak with technology leaders about the trends and challenges that are reshaping our increasingly digital space. In today's episode, we speak with James Wiley, principal analyst at Eduventures speaking live at EDUCAUSE James and podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia discuss higher education's enrollment woes, and talk about the shifting role technology is playing at modern higher ed institutions.
(00:38) Amrit Ahluwalia: James Wiley, thank you so much for joining me on the Illumination Podcast.
(00:42) James Wiley: No, thank you for inviting me. Thank you for inviting me.
(00:43) Amrit Ahluwalia: Man, I'm so glad we finally get to meet in person. We've been working together for, I mean, it has to be seven, or eight years at this point. It has to be at least.
(00:52) James Wiley: Absolutely. I'm so glad we we're face to face as well.
(00:54) Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah, and that's just it. So we're recording live at EDUCAUSE here in Denver. Apologies by the way, for any background noise, but that's part of the show. So, you know, I'm curious. You know, this is the end of day one. How have you enjoyed the conference so far?
(01:09) James Wiley: It's great to see people back is probably the biggest thing. It's great to see the enthusiasm and excitement and also the kind of confusion and shock about what the world's going to be like if we haven't get through Covid. In terms of what the future of technology in higher ed's going to be. So I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying watching the people, enjoying experiencing the, excitement and all of that.
(01:38) Amrit Ahluwalia: So, I'm, I'm curious. You know, you're one of the industry's leading analysts, how did you get into higher ed? What brought you to the industry?
(01:46) James Wiley:I got into K12 first. So I studied in Europe and I came back and I really wasn't trained to do very much. I wanted to be an ancient philosophy scholar. So, it turns out a friend of mine has started a company called The Grow Network, which is a K-12 company, that's trying to, merge assessment and instruction for next steps. And this was around the time of No Child Left Behind. So, I started in K-12 and then I was there for about 15 years moving from customer facing roles to tech backend roles. Working on statewide launch data systems, et cetera. And then I kind of wanted to change and then moved to higher ed seven years ago and moved to Eduventures.
(02:36) Amrit Ahluwalia: Interesting. What's interested you the most since you landed at Eduventures? I mean, you guys have done such an interesting array of research, and again, I mean we've worked with you to cover some of it. But what's really jumped out at you as you think about that career and what are some of the things you're most proud of in that time?
(02:50) James Wiley: I think the first thing that struck me when I moved from K-12 to higher ed was the lack of availability of funding for the federal level, right? We had No Child Left Behind. And then we follow that up with Race to the Top, and then you still have some other grants. So a lot of districts and states were operating with almost house money when they selected technology. It wasn't coming out of their pockets. In higher ed, that's not the case, right? They have to be very careful and intentional about it. I think one of the things that I find most exciting and I'm most proud of at Eduventures is trying to get people, institutions, to think less about technology as a product and more like a house. And here's the difference. A lot of times you're buying a product to solve a specific problem. I want to improve retention, I improve graduation rates, et cetera.
(03:43): And what we're seeing in more and more institutions say, you know, can I grow with this technology? Can this technology help me become the institution I want to be? Can it help me future proof my ecosystem? Can it help me grow like that? And that's more of a house model. Where you're looking not just of number of bedrooms, whether it has two bathrooms or whatever. You're thinking, can I see myself having a family here, growing old here, et cetera.
So we're seeing institutions think a little bit less about product A versus product B and more about how do they all fit together? How do these products help me become the institution I want to become. Serve students, change paradigms and that kind of stuff. So it's very interesting to see that change. There's still, of course, some institutions who do want to solve a product problem.
(04:31): And of course, you don't want to grow with your vacuum cleaner, right? You want your vacuum cleaner to be exactly a vacuum cleaner. So that's totally fine. But we are hearing more institutions say, I want to solve the problem of onboarding. I want to solve a problem of student engagement. How do I do that? Is it one piece of technology? Is it 115 pieces of technology? What is it that I need to do to put that together? And that's an interesting question and one that we're trying to encourage more institutions to have.
And it brings in different stakeholders. But I think personally the output of that, because going back to the first question about how I got into this, I can say I implemented and or designed about 20 different technology solutions. I have literally no idea whether I moved a needle from zero. I know within time, scope and cost, but I have no idea of anything else. And I don't want that to keep happening. So selfishly, I’d like to retire in 10-15 years, and say somehow we move the needle. But also I want institutions and vendors to think about that being our sole end goal—moving the needle for students in higher education, and how do we marshal technologies to get us there.
(05:44) Amrit Ahluwalia: As we've shifted to a more student-centric environment, right? I think we're actively making that shift as an industry towards student centricity. What are some of the leading indicators that you're watching to map the progression of that transformation?
(05:59) James Wiley: I think one of the things that we're seeing is a fight. Perhaps fight isn’t the best word. But a lot of focus on this idea of an engagement layer. So somewhere where, between the student touchpoint—between students and all the technologies underneath. What are the touchpoints? How can I make sure that students, regardless of her mindset, regardless of her portion of the journey, regardless of her needs or not, how can I make sure that her touchpoint gives her the most value? How can I do that?
So essentially, you can think about engagement. We think about engagement, involvement and integration. Engagement is do I feel like I belong? Involvement, am I participating in activities? Integration, do I feel like I fit here? We see that being a main focus of live institutions and some tech vendors as well. To say, you know, that's the play, right? We can talk about whether student information systems and CRMs or whatever are useful for the technology. But until we crack that problem, all of that is really necessary but not sufficient. So I think the student centricity question I'm tracking in terms of the heat around this idea of engagement, involvement and integration. And that's how I'm tracking it. And as I'm hearing more institutions talk about that and how we're seeing more trends of vendors going into that space, I'm like, yeah, student centricity is gaining some speed.
(07:27) Amrit Ahluwalia: It's really interesting. I want to ask you a little bit about the enrollment declines that we've seen over the past few years. And, you know, we're recording this at, what day is it? I think we're somewhere near the end of October in 2022. So last week, National Student Clearinghouse released their new fall 2022 enrollment estimates. We didn't see the increase we were hoping for. It's not as large a decline from 2021 to 2022 as it was from 2020 to 2021. But it's still a decline. What's behind that shift and how do we start to buck that trend?
(08:00) James Wiley: I think, you know, some people do point at increased competition options for students. That's one, though we're not really measuring how many students are leaving higher ed per se and going to boot camp or other credential platforms.
(08:14) Amrit Ahluwalia: We don’t map any of that.
(08:18) James Wiley: I think a lot of students are beginning to vote with their feet. I think they're beginning to say, you know what? I don't want a transactional experience. I don't want to have my high school and my college to be like a fast food restaurant where I pay you, you give me something at the end and it's fine. I want to make sure that you have value, you provide value to me. And that value is be measured in certain concrete terms, right? Employability, both short term and longer term. Not just getting a job right of college, but longer term. What is going to provide me with a rich experience? Am I going to love being on campus with you? And what does that look like? Is it going to allow me to network and grow socially with friends? I think students are unclear about the value of that.
And I think a lot of institutions on the enrollment mission side are painting a nice picture of the institution, what it can offer, et cetera, but not quite answering those questions. Questions where students have to say, you know what, if I'm going to spend, not now, but in the future, spend 60, 80, a hundred thousand dollars, I would really like to know what that's going to mean. What is it going to mean for me?
And that's the real case I think that is yet to be made. So until we do that, I think we're going see some enrollments climb further upstream—high schoolers and things like that. But I think that's going be a challenge for higher ed to kind of try to reduce or reverse these enrollment declines.
(09:42) Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely. And you know, I think one of the areas we're seeing bumps in, and unfortunately, we don't track any of it, is into the growth that we're seeing. I have some access to Modern Campus’s back backend data and we're seeing enrollment growth in non-traditional and continuing ed spaces. Like it's one of these things that it becomes really exciting because to a certain extent, yes, we're not seeing the enrollments we are used to seeing in degree programming. But I think it's because at the institutional level and at the market level, folks are seeing the opportunity that exists in non-traditional pathways and non-degree credentials and alternative pathways to education. How does that affect us over the long term? Like what does that mean in terms of the value proposition of the post-secondary institution?
(10:26) James Wiley: I think the jury is out. Higher ed in the United States has to balance a couple of things, right? Has to balance preparedness for the future, but also well-roundedness, right? You learn to be with other people, you grow as a person, et cetera. You learn new subjects that are outside of your degree program. That's interesting. I, for example, took a course at Indian literature, which was fantastic and I just chose it because I didn't know anything about the literature and just enjoyed it.
So I think one of the things that higher ed has got to kind of focus in is like, you know, well what is the value of that, of those two things? And is the value worth the cost for the student? Or should the student say, you know what? I'm not worried about growing up or taking any literature or anything like that. I want to be a computer scientist. I'm going to go ahead and take this non-degree, non-traditional degree program and be a computer scientist because I've got to take care of my family and I've got to be employable and I've got to do these things right away. And I think higher ed has taken the holistic approach for granted, never made a great use case for it. And so people are saying, well, I don't really need it, so I'm goint to just narrow my entire experience and say, oh it's about learning a particular skill.
(11:48) Amrit Ahluwalia: You know, it's actually, it's so disappointing to a certain extent. And you know, I've benefited from a liberal arts education you have as well. But Gates Foundation data from, I want to say the last few weeks, looked into student motivations and the demand drivers for enrollments. Something in the order of 80 to 90% of respondents talking about, the value of a post-secondary investment being for career growth, salary opportunities, employment-based outcomes.
A little, even like 52%, just slightly over half of respondents said something along the lines of becoming a better citizen of becoming more cultured. And I think that's an unfortunate outcome of the fact that we have made education a private good. It's not, you know, we don't recognize the public benefit of education to a certain extent. We've put the cost on the learner and it's coming out of your pocket that the question of ROI becomes a lot more concrete.
(12:55) James Wiley: It does. I agree with you a hundred percent. You know, I think if you look at some of the, you know, John Dewey and some of the other thinkers, it was woven into citizenship. It was woven into being Americans woven into being all that. And we've narrowed it now. So we've said, you know, your job is to go to college, learn the skill, learn to do your laundry and things like that. But learn to get a skill and then go off and get a job and start your career, not about these other things. Which seem, I think, to students to be a little bit more normal.
I grew up in the South Bronx. I got that portion, but no one around me understood it. They were, you know, they were like, oh, so you're going to college to get a job? That's fine. I was like, yeah but I'm also learning things I imagined I could learn. But it was just by dumb luck that I was that kind of weird kid and I got kind of the playability side and the kind of growth side.
(13:51) Amrit Ahluwalia: I think it's important to recognize, like there is a both end component. Now, I'm glad to see, as much as I'm an advocate for outcomes-based education, as much as I firmly believe in the post-secondary industry making space for people who want job outcomes. I am glad that there's still a recognition at least that not every institution needs to adopt the same model. It's really a question of how you make sure you're serving the students coming through the doors.
So one thing I'm curious about, and the Holland IQ data came out on OPM partnerships. And you know, we've seen significant year over year increases in the number of OPM pathway and bootcamp partnerships over the past probably three to four years. But in the last year, the number of new partnerships fell from 342 between 2020 and 2021, to just 185 expected 2021 to 2022. What's behind the drop in the number of institutions forming new partnerships with OPMs?
(14:53) James Wiley: Well, there's always been this tension around the pricing model. But I think at this core, the question for my institutions, at least I spoke to is kind of why should we outsource something we're supposed to be able to do? And then pay someone else for it.
Also I think some of the institutions have learned to do it. The OPM providers, the struggle there is that you're teaching your customer to essentially be your competitor. I'm showing you how to spin out an online program, how to market it, do an enrollment, whatever, and you just think, okay great. You know what? I'm going sign a five-year contract with you and in year six, I'm going to do it myself. I'm going to just go ahead and do it myself. So I think the pricing model struggles are there. I think the existential question about is this something we should be doing in-house as opposed to outsource.
And I think the third is just, well now that I've learned to do it, why do I need to outsource this at all? You've taught me how to do it, or I began to hire instructional designers to do it in house. Why should I go outside? So you have some providers that are not pure OPM, but what they do is give you the building blocks to do online programs. And they don't take revenue share. They're kind of one and done. And that's great. And I think you see a lot of their growth is going to continue to grow.
(16:18) Amrit Ahluwalia: Because it’s more consulting at that point.
(16:19) James Wiley: Exactly right. You'll give me the background and the support to spin up my own and I will do that.
(16:24) Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely. What are some of the other trends you're watching? What are some of the other things that are capturing your imagination right now?
(16:30) James Wiley: I think one of the other trends that we're watching is kind of the distinction or the tension I should say, between whether I want it all in one solution or whether I want point solutions. It's been a huge thing.
(16:44) Amrit Ahluwalia: So you think we're coming back to another ERP versus best of breed?
(16:47) James Wiley: I think so, yeah. And I think the question is really do I want a one-stop shop for everything or do I have the ability in-house to manage integrations, to think through how I put together different point solutions? The supporting decision points there are things like scalability, reliability, manageability, et cetera. So they're not purely technological, they're what's normally called design principles. Those questions, those capabilities that you might have to have in house an institution a technology provides to you. Those are your decision points. But I'm tracking that pretty carefully. Because there are some vendors who love the ERP, hub and spoke model, this their bread and butter, that’s fine. And there are other vendors that say, no, we'll continue to be best in breed point solutions cause we can innovate faster and et cetera. Whether that's true or not. So that's something that we're going be tracking a lot more going through.
(17:47) Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely. Well James, I mean that pretty much does it on my end. Now before I let you go, one of the questions we like to end every illumination episode podcast with is, if someone's going out to dinner in Providence, where do they need to go?
(17:58) James Wiley: Federal Hill needs to be done. You just have to do it because it's a wonderful place. Has to be done. There are quite a few restaurants up there. There are some restaurants in the middle, in downtown that are picking up. But coming from the outside, just for it’s history—both famous and infamous, you should go to Federal Hill.
(18:18) Amrit Ahluwalia: Any particular restaurant?
(18:20) James Wiley: There are quite a few. One is called Massimo's. There's one called Pane E Vino. There are a few others that are up there as well. But all of them are pretty much good. So just go check them out.
(18:39) Amrit Ahluwalia: This podcast is made possible by a partnership between Modern Campus and The EvoLLLution. The Modern Campus engagement platform, powered solutions for non-traditional student management, web content management, catalog and curriculum management, student engagement and development, conversational text messaging, career pathways, and campus maps and virtual tours. The result innovative institutions can create learner to earner life cycle that engages modern learners for life, while providing modern administrators with the tools needed to streamline workflows and drive high efficiency. To learn more and to find out how to modernize your campus, visit moderncampus.com. That's moderncampus.com.