President’s Point of View

The following is a selection of posts from President Avaltroni’s LinkedIn page.


FDU Commencement

Another incredible graduation ceremony is in the books here at FDU’s annual commencement!

Outside, it was cloudy, rainy, and gloomy, but from my view, it was pure joy.

Seeing the faces of our Class of 2024—each with their own story of overcoming challenges—light up as they walked across the stage makes it all worthwhile.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget the bigger picture with everything going on. But days like these remind me that our work changes lives and shapes futures, especially when I remember that most of those in attendance started their studies in a world of virtual learning amidst a global pandemic just a few short years ago!

From day one, our learners’ ability to overcome great challenges was evident. I hope their learning in the classroom and about themselves will shape the path to a brighter future.

And a huge shoutout to our honorary degree recipient, Dr. Stephen Klasko! His inspiring words reminded the graduates of their power to change the world.

But graduation is not the end. Instead, it’s a new beginning!

I’m excited to see the great work our graduates will be doing in the future, whether in the professional world, starting their businesses, attending graduate programs and continuing their education, creating solutions to real-world problems, making a positive impact in the world, or doing other things.

What’s a memorable moment from graduation day for you?

Higher Education is Stuck in the Past

You’ve heard me say it before… higher education is stuck in the past.

It’s operating the same way for decades, maybe even centuries.

I look around and see an industry in desperate need of reinvention. The current business model needs to be fixed – it needs to be built to truly serve the needs of today’s learners and tomorrow’s workforce.

That said, all of the challenges provide us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move away from the status quo, questioning every assumption about how universities should operate, who they should serve, and what the ultimate endgame is.

It starts with prioritizing students’ interests, success, and upward mobility. From there, we’re building new partnerships, creating specialized programs, and finding creative ways to deliver more considerable impacts with better economics.

If higher education doesn’t evolve, it will be left behind, which ultimately means our students and those we trust to change the world will be left behind and unable to adapt. As we prepare to celebrate a new class of students graduating to chart the path for our future, I am reminded all the more that students need us, and we need to be here to support them.

How should we reshape higher education to ensure we are ready for the future?

My FDU Journey

This week, as we prepare to send off our students in celebration, I’ve been reflecting on my FDU journey amidst completing my first year as president.

It reminded me of a journey that began as a freshman, still trying to figure it all out, and seeing my personal growth four years later as I walked the stage at graduation.

That was my story nearly 25 years ago, and now it’s with great joy that I have the privilege of leading this incredible place and celebrating the students ready to change the world. It wasn’t exactly the plan.
I started as an undergrad, fell in love with this community, and returned to join the faculty after grad school. The next 20 years were busy building new programs and launching our School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences from scratch. It was quite an exciting undertaking.

Then, things became even more intense, and somehow, the journey led me to the role of university president, which was an unexpected milestone for me. I learned more about higher education and realized how serious reconsideration is needed. I became passionate about students’ mental health and their ability to navigate college during these challenging times; this topic is a huge concern for me.

I’m now working hard to be part of a team that builds a new and improved education system and eliminates outdated ones. It’s exciting and sometimes a bit daunting.

And so, my mission is to create a more sustainable higher education model for the future.

I started here as a nervous freshman, learned a lot, and met some incredible people. Now, I get to give back to students who were once in my shoes.

Vancouver Campus Commencement

The most important thing is to keep the most important thing the most important thing!”

Confusing, right? No, real simple. In the midst of an ever growing list of negative news, looming deadlines, crises and headaches, it becomes far too easy to forget the most important part of why we put up with all of these obstacles.

On May 1, I had the privilege to take part in our Vancouver commencement ceremony, where I had the opportunity to congratulate and shake the hands of hundreds of graduates representing scores of different nations, all of them seeking opportunity to transform their lives and future through education at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

For a moment, it was easy to forget the challenges and focus solely on the smiles, the joy and the excitement and realize that what we do has purpose, meaning and impact that transforms lives and generations. Sometimes the most important thing is to remember that this is the most important thing we do!

The Dire Need for Transformational Change in Higher Education

“First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dare.” -Walt Disney

This quote has become a focus for me as of late, likely because of the fact that I have had a lot of opportunity to speak to a host of different audiences about the need for radical change to rescue higher education from its unsustainable future.

I’ve started to realize that much of my focus (and quite often, much of the focus of people in leadership roles everywhere) is the ability to think about the future, believe in our ability to change for the better and dream of the opportunities to make our institutions more sustainable, more impactful, more successful. I’ve also started to realize that this isn’t enough.

I suspect that the most meaningful step in leadership is the bold one…the one taken when leaders dare to step out with their thoughts, beliefs and dreams about an institution and dare to do something about making them a reality. The evidence is all around at examples of those who were willing to take the courageous steps to radically change course, and many of those examples are the greatest successes of our world today.

I recently had the opportunity to submit an article for University Business, talking about the dire need for transformational change in higher education. In thinking about it more, I came to the reality that the need to change isn’t an option, but a necessity. The only question will be whether we take control and implement the change ourselves, or whether it is thrust upon us.

As I look out at the horizon, I see the coming era of higher education where boldness is the only answer, and it’s for that reason that I will choose to dare!

Adapt or die: 3 ways to transform your institution in a changing landscape

The Qualities of a Visionary Leader

What’s the difference between a lunatic and a visionary? About 10 years.

I read this interesting and thought-provoking riddle, and I disagreed with only one part of it. I think the time between these two phases has continued to decrease, and the difference can be on the order of a few months.

In the rapid and fast-changing world we find ourselves in, the things that we hear about as “the future” seem to be looking more and more real each day. I realize that the things that people spoke about a few years ago as the patterns and predictions about what comes next are already here. I am starting to realize that visionary leadership isn’t just a nice to have, but rather a necessity.

I’ve been reading about the attribute list to what makes for visionary leadership, and I am starting to realize that the list combines the “left brain” and “right brain” talents in a way that bridges between the analytical and the creative. On that list, creativity, communication skills, emotional intelligence, resilience, boldness, strategic risk-taking, collaboration and a growth mindset all appear as traits of importance.

In thinking about it, I might add one more essential to visionary leadership in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world of rapid growth, change and evolution. An audacity to believe in what is possible, even before it is anything more than just a dream or concept in the mind’s eye. I find this to be the most challenging, most exciting, most frustrating and most fulfilling aspect, both for me and those around me who often think that I may have crossed over the line between visionary and lunatic to the “other side”.

But, now more than ever, I believe that this quote from over 50 years ago by visionary Walt Disney is one to live (and to lead) by: “First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dare.”

In the new knowledge economy, fortune will favor those who are willing to think, believe, dream, and finally, who are audacious enough to dare.

8 Qualities That Make a Visionary Leader

The Challenge of Leadership

“The only way out is through.” – Robert Frost

As a parent, as a friend, a colleague and a leader, this is often difficult to accept. I am wired to be a solver…I love to fix things and try to find positive outcomes, whether it be fixing problems at home, at work or anywhere else that I engage.

However, one of the things I’ve been learning quickly as I’ve assumed a role of leadership in a highly tumultuous environment is that sometimes, there is no easy way. All roads lead to a difficult or challenging end. Sometimes, to get to the other side, it involves us running down a path filled with uncertainty, harsh realities, change and difficulty.

Part of my growth has been understanding that sometimes, this difficult season is a necessary part of the journey to “the other side”…whatever that other side is. Lately, I’ve been realizing that change is inevitable, and the only certainty we are assured amidst the challenges we face is that staying the course will lead to a reality further and further apart from the path we want to go.

The challenge of leadership that I am learning to navigate is two-fold: first, it involves coming to terms in your own heart and mind that taking this leap forward is necessary for growth and evolution needed to improve our future. The second challenge is building the human capital and trust to have others believe in you enough to follow you into the darkness. That is the critical and necessary piece to implement the changes needed to chart the course for what comes next. And, it involves levels of trust, vision and empathy that have to be at the core of every word spoken, action taken and relationship built!

The Only Way Out Is Through: How to Survive Backlash Against Your Company

Embracing the Future of Technology 

I had the opportunity this past week to visit the HIMSS Conference this past week, and I learned a great deal…perhaps the most clear and apparent is that the future is now. The discussions around what is coming (in the way of AI, a digital future, data as currency) have been replaced by what is here already and will continue to evolve at a rate like never before.

I believe that the thing that resonated most deeply for me was the reality that education has been caught flat-footed in the race against technology, and there is a harsh reality for us that even if we start running now, catching up will be a daunting task. But, as the saying goes, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now.”

Our pivot needs to start with embracing the technology that now exists, and it further needs to understand that we are just getting started. Trying to police assignments, limit the use of technology and circumvent student access is akin to burying our heads in the sand.

Rather, we need to understand that effective integration of AI, machine learning or anything else like it involves people, processes and the technology itself. Preparing our students to be the people to facilitate human-technology interactions is key to their future.

While much discussion was happening at the conference around technology integration into every aspect of the practice of healthcare, it was not to replace physicians, nurses or pharmacists, but rather to enhance their workflow, make them better clinicians and free up time to allow them to do what they do best…foster meaningful human interactions with their patients.

If we want to provide students a relevant education, the time is now for preparing them for a future that will look nothing like the present or the past. The projected progress for artificial intelligence is staggering, and its evolution will continue to increase. We owe it to our students to help them to understand how to navigate a digital future so they are not left behind.

How Universities Can Better Prepare Students for a Future with AI

The Power of Transferable Skills

Last night, I happened to drive by my old graduate school building, the former Frick Chemistry Laboratory, now converted to a building which houses economics and finance.

I started reminiscing, and was amused by two things…first, the perhaps fitting representation of my own life, much of which also has converted from a focus on chemistry to one that often seems much more focused on economics and finance in my day-to-day. And second, at how unpredictable career journeys can be, moving us from the place we expected to go to a place vastly different.

That said, I realized that while I spent years devoted to working in a laboratory, deeply entrenched in a world of experiments, analysis and data collection, I haven’t touched a chemical, glassware or lab equipment in many years. Yet, I use the things I learned each and every day, and I realize that this is the value of an education where we teach and learn transferable skills.

As I continued thinking about my time spent in the old Frick Lab, I thought about the three biggest valuable lessons that four years of graduate work in chemistry taught me that I use every day in a role as college president.

1. Chemistry on paper works the first time every time; do the experiment and the unpredictable happens. The same can be said about everything we do…things always work, look clean and look good when they’re written up in a textbook case, but once you actually apply a concept to your reality is when surprises (both good and bad) present themselves.

2. Don’t believe what you read…just because it got published in a high tier journal doesn’t make it so. I remember we would hold group meetings where the exercise would be to find a published article and we would go around our lab group attempting to “poke holes” in the methods, data, analysis and conclusions. More often than not, we would realize that the “gospel truth” of peer reviewed publications was not always above reproach, and it was a good reminder that the truths we sometimes believe need to be tested, analyzed and challenged.

3. Collaboration is key…know where your knowledge stops and where other people’s starts, and don’t be afraid to be part of a team. My time studying in chemistry was the beginnings toward a move where chemistry was rarely practiced alone, but rather alongside biologists, physicists, materials scientists, physicians and a host of other disciplinary experts. Every day, I realize that in order to succeed, my need is to rely on others in a collaborative approach that allows me to bring my best, and to supplement my best with the best of others.

While I’m a long way removed from the lab, the knowledge and lessons learned still remain a core part of my journey. When education works well, the goal is not to train people for their first job, but for a circuitous career journey in an unpredictable world!

Transferable Skills: 10 Skills That Work Across Industries

The Cliff of Higher Education

I had the opportunity to read a terrific article on the multiple “cliffs” facing higher education. We’ve spoken about the demographic cliff for quite some time, and have seen this coming for a decade or longer based on birth rates from the Great Recession of 2007-08.

However, there are a number of other “cliffs” that are more unpredictable which more recently have found their way into the higher education space. These include the student debt cliff, which is leading to a major shift in the perception of higher education’s value. This debt cliff intertwines with a devaluation cliff, where many are perceiving higher education degrees as invaluable, unnecessary or not beneficial to positioning them for their future.

And, lest we forget the political cliff, which has been bubbling up amidst the politically polarized landscape, and is now seen playing out in extremes during the past months as idealogical polarization and many missteps continue to cause much of the public to lose faith in institutions of higher education.

Perhaps not a cliff, you can also add in other challenges, such as the jagged terrain of the FAFSA debacle, where delays in the federal government’s processing of the critical forms necessary for student to receive their grants and loans has caused students a great degree of financial uncertainty about their college journey.

Sadly, each of these trends creates a system of winners and losers, and much like what always happens in society, the losers are usually those who would have the most to gain from the benefits of a college degree. The outcome of all of these trends will not affect all institutions equally, and will not affect all students equally.

We will continue to see the “haves” have access and options, while the “have nots” will be the ones losing out. When institutions fail and go away, when students give up on the college application process because of frustrations, delays or lack of options, and when they look at the costs as a hill too high to climb, it is typically those from disadvantaged backgrounds that are left on the outside looking in.

I have tremendous concern about where the higher education landscape is headed for many obvious reasons. But, perhaps one less obvious one is that the continually gloomy landscape will end up doing what most things in society do…widen the gap between those who have access and means and those who do not. We claim that education has the power to be the great equalizer, but the landscape is shaping up to make access to education become a great divider that further widens the gap between those who have the tools and resources to navigate it, and those who do not.

The Cliffs Of Higher Ed: Who’s Going Over And Why?

“Life is lived in time. Therefore, those who waste time waste life.”

I spent my Tuesday before the sun rose, this time headed south to Washington DC for an annual advocacy day to speak with several Congressional representatives about the state and future of higher education. It was set to be a long day, with my first meeting there at 8:30 am, and a packed schedule all the way through a 7 pm dinner. It was also a heavy day filled with a lot of the ongoing conversations around the challenging, crisis-filled state of our sector to be rehashed repeatedly with each lawmaker and staffer.

When things are so busy and so intense, my tendency is to struggle with distraction, thinking about the hundred other things I need to be doing while immersed in the current one. It is far too easy (and far too tempting) for this to consume my work life, my home life, my relationships. The stakes feel very high, and the urgency even higher, so it feels necessary (and almost admirable) to constantly be “all in” on my work amidst a time when so much needs to be done.

Toward the end of one of my schedule of meetings on Capitol Hill, I received a text message. I read it and my heart sank. Jason Amore, our Senior Vice President for University Advancement and a dear colleague, had passed away. It was devastating news, made even more devastating by the knowledge of his young family that he leaves behind, the excitement he had shared with me over a chance to return home and pursue a new opportunity, and over the fact that all of this was gone in a moment.

Suddenly, the next thing in my day didn’t seem to matter. The next meeting could wait. The next email could go unread, and the next task on an endless list could go undone.

It was a reminder that not a single day is promised to us, and that life is precious. The days are long, but the years pass quickly. Time wasted isn’t returned.

And, it made me quickly realize that the greatest thing I can be is present. The greatest legacy I can leave for family, friends and co-workers won’t be the things I accomplish, but the impactful human interactions and memories made.

Our culture rewards achievement, accomplishment and accolade and not soccer games coached, dance recitals attended or meaningful conversations had. Yet, sometimes the most difficult and painful reminders make us realize that they are the only things that truly matter.

Many who knew Jason reached out and remarked on how much they will miss his friendship, warmth and his ability to engage and care. Not a single person will remember the number of advancement dollars raised, but rather the impact of the conversations and interactions. May that be a reminder to make the most important things the most important things in our lives.

The Future of Higher Education

This past Saturday was filled with the usual things…drop offs and pick ups and errands, but additionally, this particular one was filled with emails, text messages, LinkedIn messages and the like, all of them with the same attachment to the same article. The title, “Why Americans Have Lost Faith In The Value of College” goes on to articulate the many reasons that our society has soured on the notion of college for all, the rising costs, the ongoing narrative around elitism and the concerns about the irrelevance of a degree in preparing students for the workplace and beyond.

Hardly a relaxing way to spend a weekend, I realized as I crafted my responses to all the senders that there is an inherent problem that isn’t going away, but I also realized that it is high time for us to own up to the fact that much of what is said about us is in fact grounded in some truth.

The biggest mistake people make in anything they love or value is a lack of acknowledgement that it isn’t all perfect. Even our most respected institutions, businesses and people are flawed and often fall short of hitting their mark. Higher education is no exception.

We need to own the fact that for many, higher education institutions have failed to deliver on our promise. For every success story we parade across our publications, there is someone who carries a monthly debt payment from our institutions who does not hold a degree. For every person that used a degree from our universities to become a self-made success, there is someone whose degree has left them at a dead end. This is a reality, and it is time for us to own up to the fact that we can and must do better.

I still believe firmly in the value of college, and there is extensive evidence around its value toward higher earnings, a longer lifespan and a host of other benefits. That said, I also acknowledge that an industry that is unchanged in decades (or centuries), that often talks more about social justice and equity than practices it in the classroom or on campus, and one with far too much of the student journey left to chance is one in need of change.

The future of higher education can still be a pathway to upward mobility, changed generational narratives and success, but we must do our part to realize that we need to acknowledge our need to improve to assure that this promise is realized more often, with more consistency, by more people across our campuses and communities. We are a deeply valuable piece of the societal fabric, but we also need to understand the need to do better to make more people realize that through the life-changing experiences we can provide for them, their loved ones and their communities.

Essay| Why Americans Have Lost Faith in the Value of College

Becoming a Purposeful Leader

With a full year of university leadership behind me, it was a good time to have some time away to take an opportunity to reflect on the past, present and future. Perhaps the best lesson learned during the past year, and the thing I will be working on for the next one, is to focus my attention on becoming more purposeful as a leader.

The thing I learned the quickest from day one in this role was that if I chose to be, I could be “on the go” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Saying yes to every event, opportunity, partnership or offer could easily consume every waking moment of my life. The best lesson I’ve learned, and the one I will try to focus even more so on in the coming year, is to be a more purposeful leader.

Often, the hardest thing for me to say is “no”, and by nature, I love to be involved, to solve problems and to pitch in and lend a hand in whatever way I can. I’ve learned that this trait can be all-consuming, and can actually hurt, rather than help, my contributions in this role.

Instead of trying to be all things to everyone, and taking a scatter-shot approach to my contributions, I am trying to narrow my focus on where I need to invest my time and efforts in an attempt to be driven by purpose.

Sometimes it means saying “no”, and sometimes it means saying “not now”. But, I realize that the need to do this actually means having a greater impact on things I am engaged in. It means being more present at the purpose-driven things I am doing, rather than being present in body at the current commitment, all while thinking about the next thing, and the next one after that.

So much of the last year has clarified something I’ve struggled with my entire life: you cannot be all things to everyone forever. During the coming year, I will be using the tools in this well-framed article to ask: what is my purpose, what is my role, whom do I serve, what aligns with my values, and how can I authentically be present and engaged in everything I do?

I will be asking these things of myself, but also will be using them to hone our institution’s purpose as we acknowledge that we also cannot continue being all things to all people. In focusing on our purpose, we can do things we do with excellence, and invest the needed tools and resources to build a better future. More than anything else, I believe that higher education desperately needs to focus on its strengths to be ready for its sustainable future!

5 Principles of Purposeful Leadership

Being a Visionary Leader

I woke up this morning to an article in my inbox, entitled “You Could Not Pay Me Enough To Be A College President”, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It states within the context how difficult it is to serve the various constituencies, and how much more difficult it is getting with each passing moment and each consecutive crisis. The last sentence concludes with: “What worries me about this acrimonious moment is that the longer it continues, the number of folks willing and able to do these jobs will shrink into nothingness.”

I also worry about the decreasing length of college presidents, the difficult no-win moments that we often find ourselves in, and the nearly impossible task of keeping faculty, staff, students, regulators, alumni and countless others happy and engaged. However, I choose to think that maybe this is a moment of opportunity, and what needs to change is the type of leadership college presidents exude.

The current positioning of higher education indicates from every angle and every measure that we are facing a tectonic shift that has never been observed before in the history of our industry. A confluence of factors are upon us, and the need to adapt or die is real for just about every institution that can’t stand on the safety of its endowment size as the waves of change crash on our shores.

Maybe we need bold, courageous leadership that is unapologetically willing to lead this industry in a new direction, toward a greater relevance amidst a narrative that suggests that what we do is increasingly inconsequential. Maybe we need to rethink who we are, who we serve, how we serve them and maybe we need to do so with a confidence that is unflinching, even when each of the aforementioned constituents are displeased with our direction.

I think that the biggest problem of higher education has been trying to be all things to all people and make everyone feel validated. I believe that visionary leadership is required, and it will mean sometimes being willing to be unpopular to hold the line on where we believe we need to go to do what’s right for our institutions.

The cliche about hockey great Wayne Gretzky was that he could anticipate where the puck was going before it got there. Great leadership in higher education will do the same in anticipating where the future needs and opportunities of learners are before our surrounding world arrives at that conclusion. Rather than thinking about all the reasons not to be a college president, I am excited about this possibility of boldly leading toward a future we don’t yet see, and I hope other leaders are as well!

Opinion| You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough to be a College President

What is Your Story?

To say it has not been a good stretch for higher education is an understatement. Tough times surround us, and it feels that there is a constant, uninterrupted need to extinguish fires and navigate impossibly choppy waters. To say we are an industry that has lost its way might be a fair assessment.

I’m reminded of something said to me as I assumed my current role. The instruction given to me was to fully embrace my role of storyteller-in-chief. For those who know about my enjoyment of Disney parks and experiences, the thing I find most engaging is the depth of storytelling that moves hearts, stirs emotions and creates connections. It is high time for us to begin creating those connections by telling the story of what we do that transforms lives and generational narratives.

While our industry is far from perfect, when higher education “gets it right”, we do so to the benefit of students, families, communities and generations to come. We need that message to be the thing we articulate as the critical component to what we do. It is our core mission, core purpose and core value.

In a time when there is much that we need to do better, the stories of our students point to what we do well, and it is time for us to point to the living examples of impact that we see in our students, our alumni and the lives they touch as they impact the world around them. More of that needs to be the center of the story we tell the world!

Council Post: The Power Of Storytelling For Your Business: Unleashing Your Inner Storyteller

Changes to Higher Education 

As many hours as there are on a week, that seems to be the number of exciting, interesting (and challenging) conversations about the future of higher education. It seems that there continues to be this wave rushing over our space that is a confluence of factors all culminating in one moment of crisis and opportunity.

Among the things I’ve been exploring lately is how to future-proof the concept of college, thinking about what constitutes a valuable credential at a time where everything is changing. In a digital world supplanted by machine learning, artificial intelligence, and a constant need for re-learning and re-invention, what is the value of four years of learning at a university, anyway?

The question I believe we need to start thinking about is how a college degree builds transferable skills of leadership and adaptability that make someone into a lifelong learner who can take any concept that they learned and apply it to new information, ideas or learnings.

To achieve this, it will require us to completely restructure how we educate. Our focus should be less about majors and disciplines, and more about how building on fundamental concepts that introduce and then reinforce transferable skills of leadership.

Rather than worrying about everyone’s disciplines represented in a general education, what if we focused on educating around concepts of problem solving, communication, teamwork, creative thinking, ethical decision making, problem solving and related concepts. What if we built a curriculum focused solely on educating and preparing emotionally intelligent graduates?

In a world of interdisciplinary engagement filled with rapid and changing dynamics that shift on an order of days and weeks (and not decades), what if our focus was less about transferring facts, and more about preparing our students to be true lifelong learners and true lifelong leaders? It would be hard to argue that this would make a college degree valuable for today and tomorrow, regardless of where the future lies.

Council Post: Universities Should be About Transferable Skills and Continuing Education

Not All Colleges and Universities are the Same

I read an important piece today that served as a very important reminder of the struggle we deal with across higher education…painting higher education with a broad brush of one-size-fits-all assumptions. Sadly, it seems that this is a symptom of a far greater ill, which is to assume that what you see or hear about a number of one somehow applies to the entire ecosystem.

Whether the media attention about rankings, legacy admissions, controversies on campus or other negative perceptions, it is important to understand that the vast majority of our campuses have very little in common with these “headliners”. On a more challenging side, our budgets, endowments and resources are often very dissimilar to those often thought of as the bastions of higher education. For every person who laments paying $75,000 a year to a school with billions in endowment, there are thousands of others whose situation looks very different and attends an institution where this is not the reality.

It is incumbent upon us to start better understanding that higher education, like any industry, is a spectrum. It is many institutions like ours who largely “fly under the radar” but are responsible for trying to create a community of access, opportunity and belonging amidst challenging financial situations and amidst equally challenging times.

While the headlines of $100 million donations often end up funding already wealthy schools, and while the headlines are often capturing the elite outliers of higher education, the majority of our institutions are providing a very important place in training tomorrow’s leaders. My hope is that more people begin taking the time to listen and learn the compelling stories of the things we do, the students we serve and the opportunities we provide, which, when it works well, are truly the best parts of what higher education can be!

Opinion: Why Americans should not blame their local college or university for the shortfalls of the elite

“What if We Were a Startup?”

Anyone who is watching knows that higher education is embarking upon a season of change never seen before throughout its history, and the only question will be whether we choose to bring the change upon ourselves or wait until the external forces bring the change upon us. My sense is that those who emerge on the right side of the future version of higher education will choose the former and not the latter.

I have been having many deep and exciting conversations with leaders across our industry and beyond, discussing the foundational challenges, solutions and opportunities as this tumultuous season of upheaval is upon us. Among the most profound things I’ve heard was a suggestion that I begin reframing the questions of the future around one fundamental premise: what if we were a startup, building our future from a clean page?

I’ve started to give a lot of thought to that concept…what would higher education look like if we were building it anew?
How would it be delivered amidst a digital environment where information access is abundant?
How would it be priced to assure that students could afford to come, afford to stay, afford to graduate?
How would it be structured, knowing that the path to success isn’t measured by logging 120 credit hours, but rather by gaining transferrable skills?
How would students be supported, knowing the challenges they face, the burdens they carry and the things they encounter?

I’ve been saying it to anyone who will listen…every industry across every area of our lives looks nothing like it did a decade ago, let alone a century ago. The way we live, shop, bank, communicate, consume information and interact is completely unrecognizable from a generation prior. What if we took this as the opportunity to seize this moment as an opportunity to build for the future now?

I welcome thoughts on what a higher education “start up” might look like, and in particular, what would assure that students seeking opportunity for their future could realize it within the walls (both literal and digital) of our campuses. Every crisis presents an opportunity, and I fully believe that visionary thinking will allow the higher education crisis to become an inflection point to a brighter and sustainable future!

Trend No.3 : The Business Model Faces a Full-Scale Transformation

Do We Need Standardized Testing Anymore?

Compelling (and concerning) evidence verifies what many have already known…standardized tests are a much better measure and predictor of your socioeconomic status than your aptitude for college.

If we are going to accept college as a gateway to the future, we need to look at all aspects of the college journey, from the admissions process through the four years in school and beyond, to understand how the gate is flung wide open for some, and is much narrower (or closed) for many others. Access to SAT prep courses, college advisors, extracurricular activities and many other advantages mean that much of your access to the future is challenged by where you begin.

It is incumbent upon us as educators to not accept the fact that college is a privilege for the few with means, because doing so makes the unfortunate statement that your starting point in life will directly correlate to where you end up. This leads to the propagation of a wealth gap, an opportunity gap and an access gap that we will never close.

I am proud that Fairleigh Dickinson University represents an opportunity for a personalized private education that offers transformational learning with tremendous access. It has been our mission since day one, and in my opinion, there is no greater opportunity to change lives and our world than by realizing this mission each day.


Running Toward The Fire

Imagine a business scenario where:
1. You face a rapidly rising cost to operate, but are unable to increase the overall cost to your customer.
2. You have created a price structure where many are unable to afford the product, many of those who try to afford it do so by relentlessly borrowing to obtain the product, and many perceive the value for the product received to be not worth the cost.
3. The public has demonstrated a rapid perception decline in the perceived value of the product you sell.
4. There will be a significant demographic downturn in the demand for the product.
5. Your industry is structurally built to be resistant to change at all costs, with bureaucratic layers across levels making rapid response to these shifts challenging at best, and impossible at worst.

Such is higher education in 2023, and while it is refreshing to see some authors starting to write about this turning point, the denial of its existence is stunning. A recent study of college presidents showed that “80 percent believe that their institution will be financially stable over the next decade at the same time as 72 percent believe that their “institution needs to make fundamental changes in its business models, programming and other operations.”

While the realities are indeed stark and denial seems to still be present in our unwillingness to acknowledge reality, I believe that what has always been true will remain true amidst this industry’s current day of reckoning and change. Those who are willing to innovate, re-define the model and demonstrate the value of what we offer will be winners, even amidst the turmoil and upheaval that is on the horizon.

For every industry at every point of inflection, those who were willing to lead the path to a relevant, new and adaptable model were those who became the innovators who paved the way for the necessary change to follow.

While the answers aren’t easy, I do believe that there are answers. We need to address affordability. We need to address the changing needs of learners. We need to address what we teach for relevance in a digital world. Most importantly, we need to teach transferable skills that won’t be obsolete as the world continues its radical change.

But, for this outcome to be realized, we need to acknowledge reality, understand that the ways that were are not the ways that will be, and understand that the time has come to build a way forward that allows higher education to be ready for its students and not the other way around. Openness to change is the only way that the clock doesn’t run out on our industry. Most importantly, we need to realize that the time for this is now, before we are swept away in the unforgiving tides of change and irrelevance.


The Ninth President of Fairleigh Dickinson University

I had the tremendous honor of being formally installed as the 9th president of Fairleigh Dickinson University this past Wednesday, on a beautiful fall Wednesday afternoon (and grateful for the lone sunny day sandwiched by a week’s worth of torrential rain).

I shared many things during my address, but the recurring theme that I hope came forward in my remarks was the constancy of others in my life who made an impact to get me where I am today. I am able because many others are or were willing to invest in me.

I shared the many ways that this has been demonstrated in my life at home, at school and at work, where this has been my constant reality. So often, the recognition of one’s accomplishments loses sight of the many others who are largely responsible but often hidden from the “main stage”. I am a product of so many who were willing to believe in me, to support me and to sacrificially invest in me to get me to this point in my life and career.

Whether it was exemplified by people pouring their time and resources to support me in my educational journey, or the sacrifices of my wife in providing a stable and supportive home, or the many others who are part of a team that supports my work tirelessly every day, these are the many who I am so grateful for in helping to position me to lead and take on the challenges of the future.

I truly believe that as educators, this comes naturally. Our legacy is being the foundational support to give others the wings to fly and the tools to succeed. My “ask” for our community during my address was to commit to leaving this legacy, and to invest with me in building for a future that we don’t yet know, that we may not get to see, but that we know is of the utmost importance on a path toward a sustainable future and the success of a new generation of students.

I am eternally grateful that so many were willing to make that investment in me, and equally grateful that I lead an institution committed to doing this same thing for others.