AM73036Part 3 of A Six-Part Series: Transforming Higher Education in the US

This six-part series will focus on transformation of the traditional higher education system in the United States. The Need for Change and  Shared Challenges were the focus of the previous chapters in this series.

From Cisco’s experience with higher education institutions in the U.S., those that are implementing change well are laser-focused on three critical areas: the ability to address questions of culture, to modernize teaching and learning, and to scale and propagate change across multiple, often divided, siloes within their institutions.  Also, these institutions are using technology to manage each area more effectively.

Technology plays a critical role within each of these sectors, and if used wisely and artfully, can help to accelerate innovation and change. The rate and speed at which institutions need to change will never happen without technologies such as a solid core infrastructure, wired and wireless networks that enable ubiquitous connectivity, collaboration tools that provide seamless and robust communications, and new social collaboration platforms that support and extend the interaction of multiple communities, and ultimately, create a federated higher education society.

In the U.S. today, many universities have a clear vision of the future and what they need to do to change the way in which they are delivering solid academic experiences.  In fact, a number of institutions have lengthy strategic plans, defined goals and objectives, and clear tactics. But more often than not, these plans fall short because they do not take the institution’s culture into account.

Shawn Parr, in his Fast Company article “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch,” says, “Culture is the environment in which your strategy and your brand thrives or dies a slow death.” (Parr, Fast Company)  This couldn’t be truer anywhere than in higher education. Like companies, colleges and universities have their own unique (and very powerful) cultures that limit their ability to change.

We have found Parr’s major building blocks for a “vibrant” culture to be especially relevant in higher education: He notes that the most successful organizations display dynamic and engaged leadership, living values, responsibility and accountability, and the celebration of successes and failures.

AM74661We have also found that the single most important component in helping higher education institutions to navigate often complex cultures is in getting the right people to the table when discussing and designing change. Ensuring that all key stakeholders have a part in planning and execution reduces the effect of siloes, and increases the likelihood that change will be embraced.  When building a plan for change, serious consideration should be given to the inclusion of the president, provost, or chancellor, school/college deans, leaders from offices of business, finance, technology, and curriculum, interested and motivated faculty members with a following, students, alums, unions, political leaders, unions, and community members. But it is one thing to have the right stakeholders at the table. It’s another entirely to provide them with the ability to communicate and collaborate in the most effective ways possible to support their change goals and objectives. Technology is a critical enabler in this area.

Colleges and universities are increasingly using Cisco WebEx to connect and collaborate with team members, stakeholders, and others. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities are using WebEx to hold classes as well as administrative meetings. Via WebEx, staff and faculty can meet online with disparate team members across multiple, remote areas.

Wake Forest University also employs WebEx web conferencing to hold staff meetings, bring outside experts into classes, and facilitate collaboration between faculty, staff, students, and the larger community. Increasing their ability to collaborate has helped university administrators and faculty to streamline processes, engage students, and increase access to learning opportunities. Additionally, the Missouri University System is using Cisco TelePresence to connect the presidents of the individual universities, saving travel time and expense.



Renee Patton

Former Global Director of Education and Healthcare

Global Industry Solutions Group