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Our CEO's Top 7 Insights on Higher Education That Bust the Status Quo

If Modern Campus’s CEO Brian Kibby was in charge of a university, he’d elevate continuing education, invest in top professional talent and work toward engaging every learner for life—building relationships that extend far beyond degree attainment or course completion. 

Well, Kibby’s not a college president, but he says that initiatives drive the approach of each Modern Campus product and its solutions. 

He recently spoke all about this and more on a bonus episode of The Higher Ed Geek Podcast. Here are seven of the key insights he shared with host Dustin Ramsdell.

1. Big changes are propelling us into higher education’s golden age

“I've been to nearly a thousand colleges and universities all over the world,” Kibby says. “There has never been a better moment to be in post-secondary education. With all the different ways that we can serve the modern learner, all the different ways that we can help the model learner become more competitive in the workforce. There's just never been a more rich and interesting time to be a part of the higher education community with the right mindset.”

While some observers point to mergers and acquisitions between colleges and universities as cause for concern, it doesn’t worry Kibby. He believes they’re signs of progression, not regression. 

“That level of change should be really exciting to the leaders within an institution, the faculty within the institution and the students themselves,” he says. “Because that change will help our education systems become more competitive. We'll be able to introduce more interesting course offerings in a more agile environment. I'm optimistic that we'll see more merger and acquisition activity, not less.” 

2. Recruiting talented leadership is more than worth the high investment

“We need more commercial leadership within colleges and universities,” Kibby says. “If I were a college president, I would pay my Chief Marketing Officer like I pay my football coach.” 

He believes that savvy marketing—especially techniques that leverage modern tools to engage modern learners—is critical to every aspect of an institution’s success. But unfortunately, many colleges and universities haven’t invested in marketing or aren’t willing to pay for it. 

“At the end, you do get what you pay for,” he says. “I'm not talking about paying for Google ads and things like that, which is important. I'm talking about paying for talent.”

Likewise, Kibby says institutions need to invest in their learners’ career development. After all, in an economy with nearly perfect employment, finding any job is easy. But underemployment after graduation can have a long-term negative impact on a person’s success. So Kibby says making sure people are getting the right jobs, and great jobs after graduation is critical.

“Many colleges and universities will tell you that ‘six months after graduation, 94, 95, 96 percent of our students have a job’, which is true. But when you unpack that, it's not always a great job,” he says. “So I would have a chancellor level employment czar of some kind at nearly every college and university and pay them like a college or university president or a football coach.”

3. Continuing Education and Workforce Development need more support and investment

“For many, if not most colleges and universities, if they have a continuing education workforce development program, it's often the only part of a college or university that is actually growing,” Kibby says. 

“In the commercial world, when we see the growth that is happening within the continuing ed workforce development programs, we would pour resources and energy and love into continuing ed and workforce development. It’s making a big difference for the college or university because they have a budget and, more importantly, it's making a massive difference for the lifelong learners.” 

4. Institutions are missing opportunities to engage learners for life

Colleges and universities generally under-engage traditional students after graduation—relying almost entirely on donor engagement, but not providing pathways for students to keep coming back for upskilling and reskilling. Kibby says this oversight has impacted his own family! 

Kibby’s son Harrison, who recently graduated from The University of Illinois, wants to work in sustainable farming—a field unrelated to his major. His alma mater has CE courses that can help him develop essential skills for a career in that area, but no one at the institution has talked to him about it. 

“They may have an outstanding Chief Marketing Officer at the University of Illinois, but they've never marketed their continuing education and workforce development courses to my son,” Kibby says. “And they have an outstanding school of continuing education, like most great universities do.” 

According to Kibby, finding ways to introduce students to upskilling and reskilling opportunities while they’re pursuing their first major credential is how universities can shift from one-time transactional relationships with students to lifelong relationships.

5. Departments can’t afford to stay siloed

Kibby hears the same challenge from higher ed leaders over and over again.

“When I talk to CE professionals or even senior administrators on the degree side of the house, they would say, ‘well, you know, there's a separation between the degree and the CE and all these silos.’”

Kibby’s advice for overcoming the barrier between Continuing Education and other areas is simple: Tear it down.

“A great commercial leadership would raise up continued ed and workforce development,” he says. “And if you don't have a continuing ed and workforce development program at your college or university, you should. You should do it right now.”

6. Socially connected students will feel a deeper connection to their institutions—and persist

The value of student clubs and programming outside of the classroom cannot be overstated. All students will encounter challenges during their studies, but if they have social connections to rely on, it’ll be easier—and they’ll be more motivated—to adapt and stay enrolled at their institutions.  

”If a student finds the right group for them, they're going to develop the social and emotional skills that they need to be successful in life,” says Kibby. “And they're far more likely to stay at that college or university, graduate, feel fantastic about their chosen institution and then be an active alumni member for life and contribute back—whether financially or through mentorship and creating jobs for graduates.”

7. When institutions innovate, students win

Declining enrollments may be disheartening, but Kibby believes that the bold resulting changes will eventually propel higher ed forward. 

“It is clear that many colleges in universities, they're on the precipice. And when you're on the precipice, you get open to ideas real fast,” he says. “That’s typically where the innovation happens and, in the end, the consumer wins.” 

He cites new partnerships between Ivy Tech Community College and Purdue University Global as examples.

“More and more, we're seeing unprecedented partnerships between community colleges and their local four-year institutions without any concerns about what kind of impact the partnership will have on the brand,” he says. “Those are natural questions, but if you just take the student in mind—and what's the right thing for the student— ultimately, all tides rise and your brand will be fine. And, ultimately, the consumer wins.”

Listen to Kibby’s full episode of The Higher Ed Geek Podcast here

Amrit Ahluwalia, Editor-in-Chief of the EvoLLLution , has also appeared on the same podcast—in an episode focused on engagement within continuing education, found here

Student Experience Enrollment Growth Scaling Non-Degree Education

Last updated: September 7, 2022


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