To my friends who are parents of high school students, and their friends: Why #AugustanaCollege should be on your college list (and some general thoughts about what to look for in a college) #augustanawesome

A large group of my friends have kids going through the college search process. I am enjoying listening to them discuss the process and watching their searches evolve through Facebook and other mediums.

I also take special interest in all of this as I try to learn more about my day job in college admissions. It’s a guilty pleasure to be an observer, knowing what I know about how this process works.

Yet, most of the time, I am pretty reserved about pushing my friends and their kids to look at the place where I am employed—though after all it is a mighty fine college. I want to be respectful and I know it’s important to give a student a wide berth to navigate the process and make a personal decision. I give the parents an equal amount of space because I don’t want them ever to use “Mr. Barnds says…” when discussing this important decision with their kids.

However, I was recently involved in a conversation with someone who intimated that something I was considering doing professionally was too much of a long shot because the college where I work is ranked lower than some, and therefore I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides irritating me, the comment demonstrated the thinking that keeps people from considering places that might really be fabulous. I needed to take action.

So, I think it’s about time I introduced my friends to my employer, Augustana College. Read along if you want to learn more about the place where I’ve worked for 13 years and why it should be on your kid’s list.



Before I tell you more about Augustana College, I want to challenge your (and my) thinking about the college search. For years I’ve said that students should look for a place that offers:

  • The right amount of challenge and support to succeed academically.
  • An experience that allows for pursuing their passion outside the classroom.
  • A place where they can see themselves fit in and grow.
  • An affordable experience.

Most students and families also think about size, major, distance from home and cost—all good criteria. But as I get close to my own kids’ search for a college, I am starting to think differently. My thinking has been challenged more than I’d have thought, having been at this for nearly 27 years!

If I were going through this right now, these are the questions I would be asking my kid:

Will you find a mentor?

I read more and more about the importance of mentors in college and beyond, and it jibes with my experience. Mentors set students up for success. I cannot imagine investing in a college experience and not being able to look back on at least one person who was there at a meaningful moment or provide a gem of advice that led to a new discovery. This article, “Mentors play critical role in quality of university or college, new poll suggests,” is worth your time. Mentors are crucial to the “challenge and support” so necessary to students’ success.

Is the amount of debt manageable? And is the experience worth it?

There is panic about student loan debt and it’s true that many borrow too much. However, if you are at a middle-class income level and have the core belief that a college education should be debt-free, it would be better to reframe your thinking. It is always astonishing to me that students invest heavily in their kids in the form of camps, lessons, vacations and material things, but then become fiscally conservative when it comes to the most important investment one can make. Begin by asking whether the investment in a particular college is worth it. A student loan is not a bad decision, and for a private college education families and students can expect $25,000 to $30,000. Debt levels beyond that are problematic for many. How much student loan debt is too much? is an article worth reading.

Is the college committed to liberal arts education?

My wife Jennie and I are products of a liberal arts education, and believe the rewards of such an education are immeasurable. I pay attention to the general education program at any college and what it seeks to accomplish. And, in case you are curious, general education is not something just to “get through”; it’s the space where students learn new things, make connections and learn how to keep making connections, and have their convictions, imaginations and opinions stretched in uncomfortable ways. I am persuaded by the data showing that CEOs and other leaders value the skills developed and associated with their liberal arts education. I believe my kids will not just land jobs, but keep advancing in their chosen careers because of the skills they will acquire. The article “Liberal arts is the foundation for professional success in the 21st Century” reinforces how important this point is.

Is the college serious about students being career-ready at the end of four years?

Parents are serious about their students’ career preparation, and I have similar expectations. I pay attention to a college’s orientation toward career and professional development. But helping a student put together a cover letter and résumé, and hosting an annual job fair does not amount to the type of seriousness I am looking for; that’s superficial, not serious. This is a really helpful blogpost, “How to evaluate a college’s career services,” that I highly recommend.

Will the college expose students to diversity in all of its forms?

Preparing students and graduates to embrace our diverse and changing world has always been important, and now we recognize this more than ever. Colleges that understand this are certain to more effectively prepare students for life. Jennie and I chose to enroll our children in an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse school district because we know how important it is to experience, be a part of and appreciate cultural difference. I am sure the same will be true of my children’s college search. “The importance of cultural diversity in the workplace” is a blog post that reinforces why it is important to seek and experience diversity in college.

Is the college oriented toward getting to know students, or is it a factory for education?

Small classes, excellent advising and individual attention are important to me, and in my view should be important to all parents. The learning that happens in a large lecture hall is simply not equal to the learning that happens in a small classroom setting. Active participation in one’s learning is critically important and it happens in small classes and at places where professors, administrators and staff members are serious about getting to know their students. I found this to be a pretty good article, and I invite you review: Why small classes are better in college.

Is the college a place where a support network can help during a crisis, large or small?

In college, my crisis was being placed on academic probation because of poor academic performance. My parents never threatened to pull me out of college, never called the professor to make things easier for me. It was my crisis to deal with. But, I also found myself with a support network of friends who encouraged me. Moreover, the professor in whose class I struggled for three consecutive semesters took an interest in my success and helped in every way—including pulling a few string to make sure I was able to study in Spain, because that was, he said, “the only way you’ll learn the language and graduate from college.” By the way, studying in Spain stretched me well beyond what I thought imaginable, but that’s for another day. This is my story, but as a parent I know that every student will experience a similar moment. So I pay attention to signals that suggest a college can equip my kid with the coping skills and grit to get through it, and if needed, with the help of someone there who will listen, care and perhaps provide a little tough talk. This is the stuff that promotes success and resiliency in a career.

I hope you noticed that I am not paying attention to rankings, which are downright silly. Nor am I paying attention to athletics division or Greek Life.  And I didn’t mention a thing about school colors, sweatshirts or mascots.

Nope, I am zeroing in the things that lead to a great experience and success following college. These are the things that genuinely matter, to my mind.



So, now please allow me to introduce you to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where I’ve been working since 2005. We are an undergraduate college of liberal arts and sciences with an enrollment of 2,600 students. Our students come from diverse backgrounds and are high-performers in the classroom. The college is located in a metropolitan, diverse, fun and prosperous community of about 400,000. If you want a little more of the boilerplate narrative, you can read and explore here.

Of course, what I really want to do is provide you with my unfiltered thoughts about this amazing college and what we do. Here it goes…

Augie’s been around a long time and our graduates have done some amazing things—Not only are my mother and uncle graduates of Augustana, we’ve had some pretty distinguished people graduate from the place and make their impact in the world. Sure, we’ve had a couple of Nobel Price winners. And then there is Brenda Barnes, who shocked the corporate world when she left the position of CEO of PepsiCo to spend time raising her children. Ken Anderson played football at “little old Augustana” and then went on to earn a law degree and become the MVP of the National Football League while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. We count eight college presidents among our graduates. Right now a recent graduate is working to rehab computers for the school she started in Kenya, built on land she purchased from money she saved while working in Augustana’s dining center. Current students are poised to make a difference in a world that needs them. If you want to know where they begin their paths right out of college, see More Than I Imagined on our website.

The campus is ridiculously gorgeous—Augustana’s campus is absolutely beautiful. Seriously, it is consistently recognized for its beauty. Thrillist recognized Augustana as one of the Top 25 Most Beautiful Campuses. When one steps foot on campus, it’s impossible to overlook the natural and architectural beauty. If you doubt me, here are some photos. I believe there is something valuable to learning and living in an inspiring environment.


We get the liberal arts thing right—The term “liberal arts” and the concept of what a liberal arts college does can be confusing. Sadly, the first thing that comes to mind for too many when they think of liberal arts colleges is small and expensive, or politically liberal, or too focused on the arts. None of these is necessarily true. At Augustana College we have a clear idea of what it means to be a liberal arts college. We focus on those skills a student acquires by studying at a liberal arts college. We’ve clearly defined Nine Student Learning Outcomes around which we’ve built our curriculum. Moreover, we specifically focus on the skills that employers want. Our students leave Augustana as keen problem identifiers, effective problem solvers, exceptional communicators, and critical and creative thinkers—all of which prepares them for professional success in the 21st century.

We are very serious about career and professional development—In the last decade we’ve completely reimagined our approach to career and professional development to make sure our graduates are profession-ready and will stand out to graduate schools and employers. We approach career and professional development in a comprehensive way and understand that advising, career and life reflection, career coaching, and high-impact learning opportunities such as research, study abroad, service learning and internships intersect as students navigate their own career-readiness. We’ve known this for some time, and have centralized these functions and services and resources within CORE. It’s called CORE because it’s located in the center of our campus and it’s at the heart of what we do. And, one of the most effective tools within CORE is the Viking Score, which helps a student (and parent) know and pursue the activities, from the first year in college to the last, that truly prepare graduates to be career-ready.

Employees—faculty, administrators and staff—take time to get to know students and create conditions for success—We focus exclusively on undergraduate students and are staffed predominately by full-time employees who have made an intentional choice to work in this setting. This enables us to focus on the personal and educational development of students ages 18 to 22. We understand their developmental psychology and take our role seriously in meeting them where they are, finding out what makes them tick, and helping them succeed at maturing into their best selves. Personal attention is inadequate to describe what we do. There is a deep care for the success of our students. When I visit with alumni, I am always reminded that our graduates are more interested in their former mentors than they are in the new programs, fancy buildings or the details of our strategic plan.

We are really good at the big things that matter in a college experience—We recently completed some stakeholder (current students, current parents, alumni and faculty) psychographic research, which revealed that people view Augustana as “competent.” At first we were underwhelmed by being described as competent—it’s a bit like being told you’ve got a nice personality. But there’s something to be said for being competent in a world of incompetence, snubs, mistakes and misses. We get the big things right. Our faculty are excellent teachers and advisors. Our students graduate on time (in four years), inspired and prepared.

We’ve invested in being a diverse and welcoming place—We know that today’s students identify race relations as one of the most challenging and important issues our country faces. We also know that our graduates, no matter where they come from or where they land after Augustana, will live in a more diverse world than their parents. We know our students and graduates must have a deep understanding and appreciation of diversity in all its forms. So we’ve invested time, effort and resources to make build a diverse and welcoming and community where we can discuss issues related to diversity inside and outside the classroom. Ten percent of our enrollment is international, and students of color comprise another 25%. About one-third of our students will be the first in their family to graduate from college. Different cultures, perspectives and experiences are valued here, creating a fertile environment to prepare our students to value and cherish diversity throughout their career.

We offer a merit-scholarship program and need-based financial aid that makes Augie affordable, and a great value in comparison to many schools with similar attributes—Our merit-based scholarships make Augustana doable for many families looking for the type of experience we offer, and who want to see their student rewarded for academic excellence. Great students may be eligible for a scholarship of up to $26,000 annually. In addition to a merit-scholarship program that recognizes academic achievement, our need-based financial aid program makes Augustana accessible to families from all socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, one out of four of our students receives the federal PELL Grant. We are serious about all students’ academic excellence and access to a high-quality education in the liberal arts and sciences.

Faculty members are student-focused teachers and mentors, and good at the type of scholarship that matters at the undergraduate level—Too many people underestimate the value of engaged teaching and mentoring, even though there is plenty of evidence that college students with a great mentor are far more likely to succeed after college. Mentoring matters and our faculty are excellent mentors. Furthermore, our faculty place teaching first among their priorities. They constantly refine teaching methods to make sure they are connecting with and accountable to today’s students. It’s pretty amazing to witness the seriousness of their work. Here is just one example of many. Finally, the faculty members focus predominantly on scholarship and research that includes and involves students. It’s through these experiences that Augustana students uncover their potential to identify and solve problems—often real problems faced by their home communities or those that surround the college. This emphasis on involving students in scholarship means our faculty don’t hide in labs with graduate students, but instead are front and center sharing their knowledge and recognizing that Augustana students can help advance their work.

We are a national leader when it comes to balancing excellence inside and outside the classroom—We also understand the importance of balancing classroom and out-of-classroom commitment and our outstanding results in producing Academic All-Americans is evidence. We rank in the top 10 in the country, among all NCAA colleges and universities in all divisions, in producing and inspiring Academic All-Americans. There are only a handful of schools better in this area. Whether it’s musicians, actors, student government associates, volunteers in the community or club officers, Augustana students learn to excel in the many ways important to who they are and what they want to do.

We have a program that provides every student up to $2,000 for a peak learning experience— Regardless of GPA, major or anything else, every student has access to $2,000 through this amazing program called Augie Choice to support study abroad, student research and scholarship, or an internship. Programs like Augie Choice provide students with a transformative experience they won’t get elsewhere. $2,000 to support a high impact experience that gets their résumé noticed is worth it.

Our location provides meaningful experiential learning opportunities that most students will not get in a small town and probably not even in a big city—The Quad Cities is large enough to offer our students really meaningful internship and employment opportunities, but small enough that the best employers and internship providers seek out Augustana students and graduates. The bottom line is that our students and graduates have more access to hands-on experiences that will make them stand out because of the amazing resource of the Quad Cities. Furthermore, the Quad Cities is a lot like the United States in regard to the socioeconomic and ethnic mix, as well as the urban, suburban and rural mix that defines our country. It is a valuable place to live, work, play and learn.

Our students have the opportunity to be a part of something and take it further—Leadership opportunities on campus are plentiful and meaningful. With about 200 student organizations, students can find their interests, discover new ones, develop as leaders and apply their problem-solving skills to the issues they care about most.


One more thing: I remain convinced that the world needs Augustana graduates because of how they think, what they know, what they do and how they do it. Your student deserves to be needed as much.

Augustana is worth your time and consideration. If you are still reading this and you want me to be your connection, let me know. I will answer your questions, give you a campus tour, or simply put you in touch with someone at Augustana who is more entertaining than I am.




Check your outrage and shock about Harvard’s recruitment and admissions practices; college admission is not a #meritocracy and hasn’t been for years. #admissions #admission #emchat #highered

Last week brought quite a bit of attention to the world of college admission because Dean Fitzsimmons at Harvard was testifying about the university’s recruitment and selection processes in a case that alleges discrimination against Asian applicants. As an insider in the world of college admission, I have been amused by the shock and outrage that so many have demonstrated related to the many “tips” discussed. People seem to be shocked that talents, money and specific attributes drive decision-making.

I suppose this has something to do with colleges not being clear enough in debunking the idea that college admission is a meritocracy. Honestly, selective—and even modestly selective–college admission hasn’t been a traditional meritocracy for a very long time.

Let me get this off the table, though, systematic discrimination is awful and has no place in college admission. I think this is something about which we can all agree, right?

But, let’s circle back to the whole idea of college admissions being a meritocracy. It’s not and I hope we never go back to a pure meritocracy, because it will be a giant step backwards for American higher education.

There are countless reasons college admission is not a traditional meritocracy, but I think institutional mission is one of the most important drivers.

Colleges across this great country make deliberate decisions about the majors they will offer, the programs they will sponsor, the financial aid they will offer and, of course the types of students they wish to serve in fulfilling their mission.

Mission drives strategic action for many colleges in regard to where and who they will recruit and ultimately who they will admit.

College admissions officers make decision to advance the college’s mission and are constantly thinking about the mix of each class. In the case of my institution I am constantly thinking about the following:

• Are we recruiting in the right places?
• Will the gender mix be right on campus?
• Will the ethnic mix be right?
• Will we be serving the right proportion of first-generation students?
• Will we be serving the right proportion of students of color?
• Are we attracting and admitting students who may student programs in the humanities?
• Are we attracting, admitting and enrolling the right students to make our athletic teams competitive and music ensembles awesome?
• Are we admitting and enrolling a sufficient number of students who can pay a large proportion of the cost to attend the college?
• Are our processes fair?
* Can this student be successful here?
* Will this student love it here?
* Will this student make a meaningful contribution to our community?
* Will this student value what we do here?

Believe it or not, each of these questions, and many more, reflect elements of our mission and our genuine interest in serving an interesting, creative, high-achieving, diverse student body.

The fact that a college makes choices about crafting a class has much to do with mission, not with nefarious, punitive decision-making with the intent to discriminate or harm. They are making choices that they feel are appropriate in fulfilling their mission.

While I realize that this may seem incredibly unfair to some—perhaps to many–it’s only unfair if you all you can focus on are a small set of institutions that are uber-selective and an offer of admission is perceived to be some prize.

Believe me, there are plenty of amazing colleges that get amazing results. These same colleges most likely have, as part of their mission and strategic actions, the objective of enrolling the students across the country who feel aggrieved because their spot “was taken” by a student-athlete, an underrepresented student, a legacy, a musician, a dancer, a kid from Iowa, a first-generation students, or someone with lower test scores.

I am reminded of a comment Larry Bacow (now president of Harvard) made when I attend the Institute of Education Management (IEM) at Harvard in the early-2000’s. During a discussion about college value propositions, Dr. Bacow said something along the lines of “the true test of a college’s value proposition is exactly how many students would enroll if your institution offered no financial aid.” He posited that many colleges would still fill, but they would be less interesting and healthy places with much less diversity and achievement of strategic, purposeful, educational objectives. In short, they would struggle to fulfill mission.

I agree. And, while cost to attend may not be the same as a merit-exclusive admission, what we know about what represents merit (test scores, high school achievement, letters or recommendation, deep co-curricular involvement in things like pre-college programming) might as well be.

Colleges should be places that strive for a heterogeneous student body and crafting a class leads to that.

What do you think?

Monday musings (on a Thursday) from @wkentbarnds #emchat #admissions #highered #leadership

Dear colleagues and friends,

One of the thing that I really like about Monday Musings, is that I control the timetable for writing and sending these. With all of the deadlines, “hard-stops” and annual events that accompany this time of year, it’s great to be able to miss a deadline or just not do anything at all. That’s exactly why my Monday Musings is being delivered on a Thursday!

Since I last wrote, life has been very full. In addition to the regular daily work and family duties, the following has filled my days:

  • An amazing Fall Visit Day at Augustana for prospective students

  • A quick “friend-raising” trip to Austin, TX

  • A day trip to Philly to shoot some footage for our campaign video

  • A day trip to Alma College in Alma, Michigan

  • A return trip to Gettysburg College for Homecoming, the Alumni Board meeting and the college’s celebration of a recently completed campaign

In addition, there have been a bunch of soccer games for two of our three kids; Confirmation and the first Homecoming for our eldest;  and, the general busyness of the fall season that exists for a family of five with three busy kids; a higher ed professional and photographer, whose busy season is the fall.

But, the past few weeks are just the beginning!

The coming days and weeks include Augustana’s homecoming and Alumni Board meeting, the college’s fall meeting of its Board of Trustees and Augustana’s campaign kick-off event. I am looking forward to all of these events and all that they involve.

As I look toward these events, there are a couple of the things that stand out and really make me proud of Augustana and my amazing colleagues include:

Our Alumni Board will give an alumni award to the college’s Black Student Union, which celebrates 50 years. This recognition is overdue, but it reflects Augustana’s commitment over time to a diverse and inclusive community. This is a cool video telling a small piece of the BSU’s story.

Our Homecoming and reunion weekend programming is second to none and Kelly Noack and Linda Warne are rock stars. The alumni award brunch, the signature cocktail the dreamed up, Octoberfest, Golden Vikings luncheon and everything else is going to be awesome.

The campaign kick-off next week, which includes three events (one for students, the formal launch and a special event for faculty, staff and administrators) is going to be amazing and in can’t begin to thank Keri, Kelly, Judy and Lori and everyone else who has been tirelessly planning the event. Greg Armstrong has also been working on our public launch video, which is just awesome. I am so excited for the public launch of this $125,000,000 campaign and am humbled by the donor support we’ve attracted during the leadership phase. The campaign is for our student and is possible because of the deep passion so many have for Augustana College. I’ll share more details once we go public on October 11, 2018.

So, there’s a lot going on. But, all of energizes me. And, rather than think of myself as busy, I look at these days as full and rewarding.


A thought I can’t get out of my head

I recently finished a book on sales that was recommended by an acquaintance and have been thinking about it and the themes that relate to my work ever since. In fact, there are scraps of paper with notes laying around, notes in margins of a couple of notebooks and a few pages of notes in a tablet that I keep in my backpack. I guess the book has me thinking.

The book, The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, which I’ve mentioned before challenges conventional wisdom about who can be most successful in sales. The author, through a thorough evaluation of data, concludes that those sales people who challenge a customer by teaching are more successful than the back-slapping, relationship-builders often held up as the ideal salespeople. The author’s premise is that those who are most successful challenging a customer to think differently, and by doing so,  add value.

A couple of key elements from the book really stuck with me and have me thinking about how this can be applied in student recruitment, marketing and advancement.

The qualities  these “challengers” bring are the following:

  • They bring unique perspective

  • They possess exceptional two-way communication skills

  • They know what the customer values

  • They are comfortable discussing money

  • They know how to pressure the customer

Sheesh, when I think about effective recruitment, marketing and fundraising these seem to present a winning formula.

Want do you think about these challenger attributes and how they fit into the work you do?

I am thinking about which of these attributes I need to improve upon and how they can be applied to my day-to-day work.

Finally, I do recommend the book and think you might find it as thought provoking as I did.

One thing worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)

Keeping focus in a world of distractions–This Korn-Ferry International article hits me personally as I try to continue to wean myself away from distractions. This article emphasizes the importance of focus, especially for leaders. This statement alone is a good reminder for all of us:

“For a leader, though, focus holds the key to accomplishment. A leader’s control of focus matters personally, for the team, and for the whole organization.”

Something for you and me to think about

Last week on campus we had our fall term symposium, which is a day-long program built around a theme. The theme this year was relationships.

My day did not allow for me to participate in much of the programming, but I did see a sign in our Learning Commons that caught my attention (photo attached). The sign advertised a discussion called “How do we engage opinions we don’t agree with?”

I have not heard how that discussion played out, but I hope it was productive for all who participated.

Perhaps we, myself included, should ponder this question to examine our own approach to engaging opinions that are different?

I’ve been thinking about it since I saw the sign and know I have some work to do.

I posted a picture of this sign to my Facebook page and got a couple of interesting responses, including one that hit a little too close to home. The respondent (my amazing wife Jennie) wrote the following:

“One can’t engage without having listening skills, and many are unwilling to listen. People don’t listen to hear anymore; they’re too busy formulating their response to tell you your opinion (your experience, your perspective, your truth) is wrong and to tell you that you are a (insert derogatory noun, usually ending with -ist). In this current environment, one cannot respectfully agree to disagree; it’s all or nothing.”

I expect many of us see this too frequently and maybe even engage similarly.

Given the past few weeks and what we’ve witnessed in broader conversations, I am going to try to do better. I don’t want to be that guy who is formulating a response, when I should be listening to understand. How about you?

Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?

If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at wkentbarnds@augustana.edu

P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). Once upon a time I tried to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission

Monday musings on #highered and #leadership #emchat #admissions

Dear colleagues and friends,

I did not write anything last week because I spent Labor Day cleaning the pantry at home. I know that sounds really glamourous. But, I am back this week with a few thoughts to share with you.

We are in week three of the fall term and while it feels like the campus community is settling into a routine and our students are getting into a nice groove, it feels exactly the opposite in the world of External Relations. In fact, it feels like the pace is picking up, which is a very good thing.

I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such a strong, creative and talented team of higher education professionals. Here’s a glimpse of what’s going on here.

The amazing financial aid staff at Augustana College continues to work with current students and manage all of the external reporting that is required this time of year. Augustana is very fortunate the have the best and hardest-working financial aid staff in the country. I may be slightly biased.

The recruitment staff is making final arrangements for fall travel and I am getting that sense of nervous excitement from everyone as the time draws nearer. There were lots of Rep Visits love at the most recent admissions staff meeting! Also, last Friday EVERYONE from the Admissions Staff was at our every-other-week staff meeting. Karen Dahlstrom could not recall the last time that happened. Others on the team are preparing for application review and fall visits to campus.

The advancement team is neck-deep in planning for Homecoming, Parents’ Weekend and our Campaign Kick-Off. Meanwhile, gift officers are doing excellent work positioning the case for our campaign and support of Augustana. Everyone is focused and excited about what will be a very busy fall.  

Communications & Marketing continues to do absolutely amazing work both on and off campus. I am always impressed by the work they do and how effectively they tell the story of Augustana College. I wanted to share this new addition, which they designed and may be found in the campus bookstore.

What do you think of President Steve Bahls’ new travel suitcase?

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 2.16.36 PM

I really dig it! Now, I of course wanted the link featured on the front of the suitcase to be to submit an application or make a gift, but I’ll settle for Augustana.edu.

I hope everyone out there is having a great start up to the academic year, too.


A thought I can’t get out of my mind

Over the summer, Brandon Busteed of Gallup shared something that I’ve been searching out since I read it first on LinkedIn. I finally found it over this past weekend.

Busteed recalled that when he started at Gallup, he interviewed leaders from across industries to try learn more about what leads to “a great job and great life.”

One of the individuals interviewed was Danny Kahneman, who is a Senior Scientist at Gallup and a Nobel Laureate. Busteed shared in his post a fascinating response from Kahneman, who replied, “That’s very simple…it’s TO CHANGE WHAT YOU BELIEVE.”  

I’ve been thinking about this since I first read it and trying to think about how this applies to leaders and leadership. So often leaders are expected to have all of the answers. How can they have all of the answers? Furthermore, what worked once upon a time might not today. How far can one dig in?

When I think of our politics it seems as though changing what one believes is seen as a weakness or liability. Sadly, I think this bleeds over into higher ed.

Having the confidence and support to change your mind when confronted with new information or evidence should be a core competency of an effective leader.

What do you think about this?

Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)

Panicked universities in search of students and adding thousands of new majors–This article from Hechinger Report is worth reading, but I really hope the ratings agencies won’t do so! This piece paints a pretty bleak picture many places face when adding programs and I fear that more journalism like this could derail mission-driven program additions that are well thought out and important to institutional growth and sustainability. But, I am also sure that there are plenty of places that add programs as a “Hail Mary” instead of thinking carefully about mission, demand and fit. I just hope articles like this don’t have an unfavorable impact on right-minded program additions.

What do you think? Too many programs being added for too few students?

Build self-awareness with help from your team-This is a great article from HBR written by Audrey Epstein that is worth your time. As many of you know, I completed a 360-review last year and continue to be very interested in self-improvement. In fact, last week I received some feedback about one of the areas that I am committed to improving upon. I noted this feedback and realize I still have some room to improve in this area.

This particular piece offers some solid advice that is summarized by Epstein in the following:

She writes, “If you want candid feedback, trust, and support from your teammates, try these five tips:

  1. Assume positive intent. Give your teammates the benefit of the doubt. Assume they are providing feedback not to judge you but to make you better.
  2. Talk to your teammates, not about them. You can’t solve problems with gossip. Venting without follow-up action ensures that you are building cliques and solidifying rifts. It takes courage, but talking directly and respectfully with teammates when something goes wrong can solve many misunderstandings without creating drama or bringing others into it.
  3. Care about your teammates’ success. Start by taking an interest in your teammates’ success. Ask questions about their concerns, know what their goals are, help where you can, and be a good listener and collaborator. You can’t be a Loyalist teammate if you don’t know what drives others’ success.
  4. Push your teammates to do their best work and vice versa. On Loyalist Teams, team members challenge each other to reach their goals. Loyalists don’t spend energy watching their own backs, so they take risks and reach higher. Start by asking your teammates to challenge you. Bring them ideas and ask for input. Ask for feedback on your plans. Embrace the idea that your teammates make you better.
  5. Ask for personal feedback. Before offering feedback, ask for it first. Ask your teammates what you could do to better support their success. Ask peers for suggestions on one behavior you could work on to become a better teammate. Give permission for teammates to share feedback by asking for it regularly and listening openly. Thank others for giving you feedback.”

That all seems like a pretty good advice to me. How about you?  

Something for you (and me) to think about

Last week a former colleague sent me a kind note and offered a book recommendation. The book recommended was Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson’s “The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of The Customer Conversation.” I was unfamiliar with the book and author, but sufficiently curious that I bought the book and am now halfway through reading it. I’ll have more to share in future musings, but in a nutshell the author makes the case that the people who are best equipped to make a case are not always those with the deepest personal relations, but instead those who are “challengers.” His premise is that in a world of greater commodification, “solution selling” by challengers is going to be most effective.

This passage provides a glimpse:

“Solution selling is largely driven by suppliers’ attempts to escape dramatically increasing commoditization pressure as individual products and services become less differentiated over time. Because it is harder for a competitor to offer the full spectrum of capabilities comprising a well-designed solution bundle, it’s much easier to protect pricing in a solution side sale than in a traditional product sale.”

Now I know that sound really corporate and really salesy, but what lies beneath is a belief that those responsible for developing relations must ask deeper questions and propose solutions that cannot be matched by others. To me, this sounds an awful lot like recruitment and fundraising.

I think you can be on the lookout for a book recommendation or some assigned reading in the near future.

Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?

If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at wkentbarnds@augustana.edu

P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). I try to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission

***This blogpost was updated on 9-11-2018 to provide a correction to the authors of “The Challenger Sale.”

Monday Musings from WKB, August 27 #emchat #admissions #highered #liberalarts #leadership

Dear colleagues and friends,

The first week of classes was a busy week with activity all throughout campus. It was great to see students on campus, but it was particularly joyful to see our student workers in admissions and advancement return to campus. Listening to them describe their summer experiences is pretty amazing and I truly marvel at what our students accomplish over the summer months.


For me, all of campus takes on a completely different feeling when our students return. There is a different energy–and urgency–to the work and the routine. It’s invigorating and reminds me why I love working on a campus and being surrounded by students and those who serve students. There is no greater job in the world in my opinion.


I hope everyone out there is feeling the same way that I do at this time of year.



A thought I can’t get out of my mind

A week ago Thursday, at the invitation of my boss, President Steve Bahls, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber always puts on a great program and there is a definite energy in the room. I am proud of the work the Chamber does and am very grateful for their advocacy on behalf of the Quad Cities and our amazing region.


As part of the annual meeting, the Chamber typically invites a speaker of some prominence. This year the speaker was Rebecca Ryan, who is described as a futurist. She did a nice job and gave me a number of things to think about.

The main take-away for me, though, was her riff on experience and I’ve been thinking about her comment ever since.


Ryan asked the audience, rhetorically, “Do you know what the problem with being experienced is?”


She answered, “That you have all the answers.”


He answer included an appropriate level of sarcasm. She then went on to mock being a consultant and a futurist because people in those roles are expected to have answers, when what they really do is to know how to ask the right questions.


I’ve found myself being hyper-aware and checking myself frequently ever since to make sure that I am not coming across as “showing off” my level of experience! Honestly, I am finding it liberating to try to take the position of asking the questions opposed to providing the answers.


Ryan offered a really great insight, in my opinion, and I believe she was trying to make the case that experienced leaders today do not, and cannot, have all of the answers. She continued to suggest that today’s leaders need to be confident enough to acknowledge that they don’t have all of the answers, insights or solutions; however, I also think Ryan was making a case for liberally educated leaders. Her premise seemed to be that today’s and tomorrow’s leaders will know the right questions to ask and why to ask them.


If that is the future (and I believe it is), the leaders of tomorrow will be those individuals educated at, and by, liberal arts colleges across the nation, which is a good thing for all us.


Something I think is worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)

Mentors play critical role in quality of college experience, new poll suggests–I saw this piece on Dan Porterfield’s (former president of F&M and current CEO of the Aspen Institute) LinkedIn page. I am not sure that this reveals anything new, but there are a couple of things that stand out and the article certainly reinforces some things we’ve been trying to accomplish at Augustana College.


The beginning of the article says it all:


“In order to have a rewarding college experience, students should build a constellation of mentors.

This constellation should be a diverse set of faculty, staff and peers who will get students out of their comfort zones and challenge them to learn more – and more deeply – than they thought they could. Students should begin to build this network during their first year of college.”

A “constellation of mentors!”


We’ve had dreams about this, but have never fully shaped this effort. We have all of the ingredients and I believe the will to do so, too. Most importantly, though, this is something that we can do that no flagship public university–even if it offers a tuition-free experience–can do.


I think the thing that really stood out to me about this is that I’ve just completed a handful of interviews with alumni for a campaign video we are producing and each one of them described their “constellation of mentors” and the lifelong impact they’ve had. Each of these alumni said the names of their individual mentors and described the mentoring moments that mattered to them. For some of them, these moments happened more than four decades ago but made such an impact that they are forever etched into their minds.


We have this. We can own this. And, this is what makes a place like Augustana worth it.


And, while we are at it, maybe we can come up with some kind of constellation that resembles the Augie A!


Something for you (and me) to think about

The Leadership Secrets of Hamilton–Jennie got me a small book by Gordon Leider that outlines lots of advice about leadership that is allegedly from Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers. This little book really is packed with some gems and I recommend it to you for some tidbits and anecdotes on leadership. The one section that I appreciated most was on section outlining “Three key actions for moral integrity.” The actions described are:


  • Be honest with your followers
  • Admit your own weaknesses
  • Develop an environment of trust


These three pieces of advice are worth noting and setting up as ambitions for all of us.


Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?

If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at wkentbarnds@augustana.edu

P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). I try to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission

Monday Musings from WKB #admissions #emchat #highered #leadership #college

Dear colleagues and friends,

Today marks the first day of classes for the 2018-19 academic year and it was pouring rain this morning.

As I was rushing to an early-morning team meeting, I saw lots of students who were soaking wet trying to get to class. I’ll bet that the College Store had a very good day today for umbrella sales! It amuses me each year that this critically important item, the umbrella, is so often overlooked when packing for college. Do all of your friends a favor and remind them to buy their college student an umbrella. Or, better yet, make an umbrella your signature gift for high school graduates.

abstract bright colorful cover

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since rain was on my mind this morning, I found myself wondering if rain on the first day of class is anything like rain on a wedding day? I am told that if it rains on one’s wedding day, it is a harbinger of a happy marriage. Does the rain on the first day of class mean that the 2018-19 academic year is going to be awesome? I sure hope so!

This year is an important year at Augustana and in external relations.

  • There are new colleagues to onboard and integrate. I can’t wait to welcome their contributions to the team and learn from their experiences. I know they will inspire us to better than ever before.
  • We will launch a comprehensive fundraising campaign in October. This is a critically important moment for Augustana College, our alumni, and all those who believe so deeply in this place. I hope the advancement team, and this place, will inspire the sort of transformational giving we need in order to achieve the goals of this campaign.
  • The recruitment team made some important strategic decisions over the summer that will help us rebound after a somewhat disappointing recruitment year. I am really excited to see how well some of these efforts work and look forward to seeing our efforts pay off.

It is at these moments that I am reminded how important it is that every single member of the team is operating at their full capacity. The beginning of a school year is always a good time to reset, or take stock of, what makes it possible for you to operate at full capacity. Do you need to give something up? Do you need to tell someone that they are driving you crazy? Do you need to exercise more? Do you need more sleep? Do you need to eat right? What do you need to do right now in order to operate at your full capacity?


A thought I can’t get out of my mind

Last week there was an article in Inside Higher Ed about Goucher College and its decision to eliminate majors and restructure features of its academic program. It was an agonizing read. If you have not read it yet, please do so. The journalism was a bit of a disappointment, but was not much different from other articles about similar situations.

The comments were predictably angry and emotional and I get it.  We experienced similar passions throughout Augustana’s transition from trimesters to semesters. In fact, the passions ran hot enough that during the course of a meeting several years ago it was suggested that some financial projections I was asked to offer must be “in Confederate currency.” (Seriously, that was a funny comment).

While the negative reactions to Goucher’s announcement may have been predictable and devolved into  the standard narrative about “the bottom-line” and “abandonment of mission,” it shouldn’t be this way.

I don’t know anyone at Goucher College, but I am absolutely sure that the leaders there considered every possible scenario before making any decisions. And, I suspect that their decision-making revolved around many of the questions below:

  • How do we best serve students given our current realities?
  • How do we ensure that we can continue to pay our faculty and others who serve our students?
  • How can we align our offerings (academic and co-curricular) with student interests?
  • Are there practical and cost-effective alternatives to what is being discussed?
  • Does this do the least harm of all of the options considered?

I am sure they asked these questions and many, many others. Senior leaders on college and university campuses make difficult decisions to strengthen and sustain, not to harm. I wish others understood and appreciated this fact.

I wish some of those who are so critical of Goucher would be bold enough to offer their suggestions of pathways forward. Regrettably, rather than productive solutions, one is more likely to hear about votes of non-confidence and fiscal ineptitude on the part of those who are trying to do the right thing.

In this uncertain time within every sector of higher ed, it is even more likely that difficult decision will need to be considered in order to preserve the diversity of educational experience that has come to define higher education in the US.

Experts in demographics have been reminding us that we can’t create an eighteen-year-old in less time than it typically takes. The same is true when it comes to creating demand for academic and co-curricular programs. Higher education has tried the offer-it-and-they-will-find-us-somehow-when-they-are-ready-for-it strategy, but it’s no longer practical.

Goucher seems to be trying to take the right steps and deserves credit for making difficult decisions.

What are your thoughts about Goucher’s announcement? And, what do you think of the reactions?

Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)

Despite strong economy, worrying financial signs for higher education–Jeff Selingo’s piece in the Washington Post received a lot of attention and for good reason. Higher education faces significant challenges ahead. This is a pretty sobering read for anyone working in higher ed, although Selingo does focus on an outlier in featuring Earlham.  However, Selingo’s concluding paragraph is the $64,000 question:

“Indeed, one needs only to look through the Moody’s reports on public and private colleges and the research on what Generation Z wants out of college to know that major changes are on the horizon for higher education. The question is whether college leaders will be able to find the right solutions, and in enough time.”

I think he may be implying that Moody’s and other rating agents–not to mention Boards, charged as fiduciaries–are going to be looking for vision, rather than stewardship of the status quo from college leaders.

Will leaders rise to the challenge? And, will they receive the support needed from others on campus.  

These 40 powerful life lessons can immediately change the rest of your life–A friend posted this several weeks ago and it was in my saved items on Facebook; I recently went back through it and remain impressed. There are some maxims worth pondering.

Here are five things that really resonated with me:

  • All things, including success and failure, ebb and flow.
  • Time is your most valuable asset. And you must use it wisely.
  • Most people don’t have the courage to live according to their values.
  • Falling short of your potential comes from doing what is comfortable.
  • Your perspective isn’t the only correct answer.

I am sure some of these resonated because of shortcomings I see in myself and others are aspirational. What are your top two or three?

Something for you (and me) to think about

This summer I attended a conference of college presidents and general counsels. Since I am neither, it was a fascinating experience and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this inaugural meeting, sponsored by Husch-Blackwell, a law firm specializing in higher education.

The topics ranged from Affirmative Action and Freedom of Expression to innovative programming and budgeting. It was really interesting to me to listen to these presidents as they sorted through this array of challenges facing higher education and higher ed leaders.

One session in particular stood out and it was not the one I predicted it might be . Anita Dunn, who ran communications for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, was interviewed about crisis communication by her sister, who is a partner at Husch-Blackwell. Ms. Dunn shared a few war stories and walked us through a handful of case studies, but her off-the-cuff advice about dealing with a crisis was the greatest take-away for me.

She outlined the following steps for dealing with a crisis:

  1. Acknowledgement
  2. Transparency of process
  3. Authenticity of voice
  4. Communicating actions as they happen

Dunn’s advice and perspective provides a helpful framework to avoid paralysis in the moment of managing a crisis. I found the call for authenticity of voice and communicating actions as they happen to be especially compelling. Too often organizations don’t think about these two elements and pay the price for choosing the wrong messenger or being tempted to wait until everything is wrapped up to communicate actions.

I now carry Dunn’s advice in my wallet so I don’t forget how wise it is.

Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?

If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at wkentbarnds@augustana.edu

P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). I try to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission

Monday Musings by WKB, August 8, 2018 (It’s actually a Wednesday) #highered #liberalarts #emchat #admissions #leadership

Dear colleagues and friends,

Another academic year is upon us and I can sense the machinery gearing up for students to return to Augustana. In the past few weeks I’ve seen more employees on campus and there is an urgency abound as we scramble to get summer projects accomplished and finalize plans for 2018-19.

For me, it’s an inspiring time of year.

But, before getting too excited about the future, allow me to reflect on the summer of 2018.

My kids have a “summer bucket list” on the refrigerator at home and they have been faithfully crossing things of the list and incessantly reminding us about things on the list left undone. Those activities I’ve been able to participate in have been a joy. Jennie has been able to participate in a few more than I and I am grateful that she’s made the time.

And, while it wasn’t on a bucket list, one activity in which Martha (14) participated was a week-long art camp. Her instructor sent us a picture of her working and it made my head explode.



Not only was I able to spend some time with my family, I also saw some old friends at a high school class reunion in Gering, Nebraska and spent a weekend in Connecticut with college friends with whom I lived during my first-year at Gettysburg College (it was a gathering or Political Science majors, none of who work in politics or public policy). It was great to spend time with these old friends.

I also made time read during the summer months. I enjoyed the following books:

Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington, “George Washington: A life.”

Marshall Goldsmith’s, “What got you here won’t get you there”

Nathan Grawe’s, “Demographics and Demand for Higher Education”

Simon Sinek’s, “Start with why.”

Ian Flemming’s, “Thunderball”

As my father would say, I “read at” the following books:

Rogee Roger’s “The luxury buyer: Path the Purchase Psychographics”

Randall Storss’, “A Practical Education.”

And, I re-read one of my favorite books, Richard Hackman’s “Leading Teams.”

Finally, I worked with many different team members to reflect on the past year and make plans for the coming year. There was much to think about and I am excited about many of the things we will introduce in the coming year.

I hope you had a good summer. What did you do and what would you highlight about your summer? Drop me a line so I know what’s been up with you in the last few weeks.


A thought I can’t get out of my mind

I am pretty sure that the most impressive people I know are graduates of liberal arts colleges.

My college friends are an impressive bunch doing really cool and challenging things. And, the many students I’ve worked with at Etown and Augie are an equally impressive group of people.

But, I must say, I can’t point to one particular major that stands out and has led to success for these people. And, while I get that major matters to many and sometimes it feels like a particularly important marker for those most committed to the liberal arts, I am convinced that these amazing people I know are so impressive because of how they’ve been taught to think and experience life, regardless of how liberal artsish their major was.

The common elements I see in all of these impressive people transcend “a liberal arts major,” but instead reflect the hallmarks of liberal education.

These people are creative and critical thinkers and they know how to identify and solve real problems. They have an appreciation for the world at large and they operate with a moral compass that I admire.

Sometimes we are confronted with new ideas about new programs and balk about the connection to our mission as a liberal arts college. I don’t know about you, but I would like front-line health care workers, elder care givers, law enforcement professionals and many others who I encounter in daily life to think, act and serve they way these liberal arts college graduates I know so well do.

Maybe liberal arts education is less about a specific list of majors offered or studied, but developing the skills and dispositions that I see in all of these amazing people I know from spending 30 years studying or working a liberal arts colleges.

Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)

Your strategic plans aren’t strategic, or even plans—This is a great article from HBR. The author, Graham Kenny, is biting in his criticism of most strategic plans. But, he offers some really interesting ideas that I think are worth considering. Among the most interesting take-aways he offers is the following:

“The key to strategy is that it’s the positioning of one business against others”

It’s that simple! Yet, most processes I’ve participated in tend to be more focused on becoming similar to others, rather than positioning against.

Strategic planning sessions in which I participate in the future are very likely to have Kenny’s quote on the wall for everyone, including me, to think about.

Five stages to becoming a leader—I was preparing for an upcoming workshop for new enrollment leaders during which I will be speaking about a couple of topics. While gathering resources for the sessions I ran across the chart to which I linked above. I thought it was a helpful reminder. The stages include: Connect; Relationship; Trust; Value; and, Influence.

These are helpful reminders no matter where you are in your leadership journey.

Something for you (and me) to think about

This past spring I asked direct reports and others with whom I interact frequently to complete a 360 evaluation. It was a tremendously humbling and helpful process for me. It reminded me how very important it is to ask the people who really matter, “what can I be doing better?”

After quite a bit of reflection, I shared the results of my 360 with all of the people who completed it. I still am not sure it was the right thing to do, but I believe it was important for everyone to know what happened to the information they shared.

One of the reasons I felt like I needed to share it is also because I want my colleague’s help as I work to address the handful of things that need attention. In short, I need those people who surround me to hold me accountable for the changes that I need to make to be the best leader I can be.

How are when are you asking for feedback from those who matter most? And, would you share the results of your 360 or am I a fool for doing so? Let me know your thoughts.

Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?

If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at wkentbarnds@augustana.edu

P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). I try to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission


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