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


Monday Musings: Rivermont Collegiate Commencement Address #LyleLovett #GratefulDead #graduation

Rivermont Collegiate Commencement Address

June 3, 2018

First and foremost, I want to congratulate the class of 2018 on your graduation from Rivermont Collegiate. I know first-hand, through my service as member of the Board of Trustees, that you have worked very hard to get to this day. Rivermont graduates take a different, more challenging and more rigorous, path. You’ve been taught to work hard and challenge yourself—these skills which started at Rivermont will serve you well as you continue your education. Further, at Rivermont you’ve learned how to be curious. This might be the skill that will serve you best in the years to come.

So, while congratulations is in order today, I also want to remind you that today is not an end. You’ll need to continue to work hard, challenge yourself and be curious to thrive in the years to come.

Next, I want to recognize your parents and loved ones. In fact, I want to invite you to thank them right now for the support, guidance and love that they’ve given to you. Parents and loved ones of today’s graduates–please stand so your graduates can recognize you—you’ve been important partners in this journey at Rivermont Collegiate.

Finally, graduates, you would not be here without the challenge and support provided by the exceptional faculty and staff at Rivermont Collegiate. Their dedication to you, the personal attention they provided and the customized experience they’ve offered is second to none. Graduates and parents, please offer your thanks to the faculty and staff.

Again, congratulations!

So before I begin in earnest, let me admit–in a moment of full transparency—that I feel slightly inadequate to be your graduation speaker today. When Mr. Roach called, I found myself thinking to myself, “I wonder how many people he contacted before he called me?”

I thought to myself that there must be many people who are far more qualified, talented and certainly more interesting than I am. While that is surely true, you’ve got me. So, let’s make the most of this today.

This brief talk has two parts: I want to tell you what a graduation talk is supposed to be about because I think that’s important for you to know, so you gain something from this talk; and, second, I am going to bold enough to offer you a little advice that I’ve offered many people with whom I’ve worked over my 26 years in higher education.

Before I get into the meat of my talk, I wanted to briefly address my gown, since some of you may have noticed that my gown is not as fancy as those worn by the Rivermont faculty and by you graduates. This gown is a cherished heirloom and is nearly one hundred years old. It’s a masters gown that my grandmother wore upon the conferring of her masters degree on June 8, 1927. In turn, my father wore it daily while attending seminary in the 1950s. The gown came my way when I completed my masters degree and I cherish it almost as much as I do the degree itself.

So, what is a commencement address supposed to be about? Any ideas? Honestly, I wasn’t sure either when I was asked to do this by Mr. Roach. So, I did what any liberal arts college graduate would do: I Googled it. Next, I asked trusted colleagues and got some great advice.

One of my colleagues offered the following:

“I’ve heard a graduation speech is supposed to talk about what happened in the world in the past 4 years, at the school in the most recent 4 years and then offer advice for the next 4 years.”

That’s seemed like good advice, but I thought that might be a bit depressing given the state of political and world affairs.

Another colleague recommended that I simply offer the following advice:

“Do good. Avoid evil. Pay cash.”

That’s good advice, too. But, does anyone actually use cash anymore?

Finally, a mentor offered the following advice:

Tell them to do the following:

Number 1: Work hard – there’s no substitute for hard work and it’s still respected. One can’t count on luck to achieve your goals.

Number 2: Have goals but don’t be obsessed with them. Maintain some flexibility and recognize things don’t always happen as planned. And that’s the fun in life.

Number 3: Don’t be a jerk. Treat everyone, regardless of their perceived station, exactly how you want to be treated. Self importance is not a handsome trait. Authenticity and genuineness are. To be authentic, one has to be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid of that.

Number 4: Be a lifelong learner. Once you stop learning – or think you’ve learned all there is to learn- that’s when you start getting old – regardless of your age.

Number 5: Money really doesn’t buy happiness. Do what makes you happy.

Number 6: Give back to those people or institutions that inspire you or have inspired you. You’ll feel good doing it.

Number 7: Stay connected to those you love – friends and family. Spread your own love among many.

I like and agree with these pieces of advice and I hope they will resonate with you.

Those are the things that others told me I should share with you.

After considering these words of wisdom, I felt better equipped to share my own recommendations, many of them based on my experiences mentoring new higher education professionals.

So, here are some thoughts from me to you as Rivermont graduates. I shared a number of these things in an article I wrote several years ago called “Take note and send notes.”

Ask questions—If you are seeking to do good and improve yourself, there is nothing more important than being curious. In an increasingly fast-paced world, it often seems easier to turn to search online for the answer to a question rather than to make time to ask someone in person. With email or texting taking the place of face-to-face communication in so many cases, asking a question has become a lost art. Learn to take time to formulate a good question and request the answer from someone you respect. It’s a great way to stand out. Moreover, asking questions can get you some valuable one-on-one time with the person who has the answers. If you really want to develop your skills as a professional, ask someone whose work you admire, “How did you earn the position you have today?” This single question will open a dialogue that will lead to more questions, and the answers will help you on your way.  When I began in my career in admissions, I had an uncle who at the time had been working in college admissions and financial aid for more than 25 years. I asked him countless questions about his work and how his institution did things, and I listened intently as he shared his wisdom and told stories. His answers to my questions helped shape my path toward increasing responsibility. Asking questions also teaches you to be an active listener and as a result, a better communicator.

Take an interest beyond what might seem natural—Life is full of defined roles, which makes it challenging to stand out among others. Sometimes it seems awkward to become involved beyond the known parameters of your role, and you may get strange looks when you try to take an interest in areas outside your box. But, looking beyond what is expected of you is critical. Go above and beyond. Exploring related passions or extending your interests within the organization is worth it, even if that work is not directly related to your position. I’ve witnessed great employees become even better when they began taking classes, coaching, advising students, attending campus forums, and even sharing meals in other locations on campus. Get out of your box and see others and be seen.

Choose your mentors wisely and thank them often—I’ve never had only one mentor at any point in my life, and for that I am grateful. In fact, my list of mentors has grown and shrunk through the years as people I admire have moved in and out of the profession. My list is a support system. My mentors have most frequently been people with a different world view than the one I have, and with strengths in areas where I could improve. I frequently call upon these mentors for advice and am deeply grateful for all they’ve offered me through the years. It’s important to let people know that their insight is valued and appreciated. Take a moment right now to think about your mentors. Do you have a list in mind? Do you thank your mentors and let them know why you value their advice and good example? For each of the countless mentors who have influenced my professional growth, I make a point to reach out with a note to thank them at least once a year. I would encourage you to do the same.

Stretch beyond your comfort zone and say “yes” a lot—While doing something really well is laudable and true expertise is something to celebrate, those seeking to grow need to stretch. Many people are afraid of accepting new challenges because of the fear of failure or worrying about appearing to be inadequate to others. Consider taking a course or joining a club outside of your comfort zone. Befriend someone who is different than you. Doing things outside your comfort zone is proxy for confidence; and confidence is what sets the stars apart from the rest. For me, stretching beyond my comfort zone has varied over the years. In my first professional job as a college graduate, it started with volunteering to supervise a telecounseling program. I recall thinking, “I don’t know anything about this.” But I also knew someone had to do it, and even though it was uncomfortable, I knew I could learn something in the end. Even failing at the task would teach me what NOT to do the next time. I also knew accepting the challenge would impress my boss. Through the years I’ve said “yes” a lot and I have been willing to try something new, even if I wasn’t fully confident about my knowledge or experience. If you want to grow, learn more and develop more fully, be willing to say yes even when you’re thinking yikes.

Don’t forget about the basics—For me, the basics revolve around garbage. A great friend and mentor once told me that if you ever think you are too important to pick up the garbage on campus, then you are no longer qualified for admissions work. I am proud to walk the campus before admissions events, on the lookout for cans, McDonald’s wrappers, Starbucks’ cups and cigarette butts. This activity never gets old for me, and makes me remember it’s my job to make sure families see our campus at its best. I am quite sure the basics will mean something else to you, but as you think about advancing in your profession, do not forget that what keeps you grounded may quite literally be underfoot.

Finally, you might recall from the very gracious introduction that preceded my talk that I am a big fan of Lyle Lovett and the Grateful Dead (I see some of your parents nodding even if you graduates are unfamiliar with these groups). But, I want to leave your with two final pieces of advice that I think will take you far as you leave Rivermont for the world that awaits you.

Last summer I watched a Netflix documentary, “Long Strange Trip” about the Grateful Dead that was excellent. I learned a lot about a group that I’d seen live and listened to for nearly 30 years. But, something that stuck was a comment about listening. When interviewed about the band’s success and continued evolution—after all, the Dead toured for more than 30 years–The bass player, Phil Lesh, once said that the reason that the band was so successful, “was because we listened very hard to each other.”

To be the very best version of yourself, listen hard, to everyone and everything around you.

Another one of my favorite singer-songwriters and musicians is Lyle Lovett. His lyrics are clever, often very sharp and almost always illustrative. His song “Natural Forces” has left an impression on me since the very first time I heard it. But, one stanza in particular carries special meaning and, I think, gives you something, as graduates, to guide you forward.

LL, as I call him, sings this:

“Now as I sit here safe at home

With a cold Coors Lite and the TV one

All the sacrifice and the death and woe

Lord, I pray that I am worth fighting for”

Just as you need to listen hard to be the very best version of you that you can be, behave and aspire to be someone worth fighting for. This idea of “Lord, I pray that I’m worth fighting for” is the ultimate ambition for a life well-lived.

So, there it is, listen hard and life a live that will ensure that you are worth fighting for.

Congratulations Rivermont Class of 2018 and thank you for this opportunity.







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