Episode 97 - Innovation in Higher Education: Lessons Learned - The SUU Speedway Campus

President Scott Wyatt and Steve Meredith sit down with SUU’s Provost Jon Anderson to discuss SUU’s newest innovation: a $10,000 bachelor of general studies degree program. They discuss the promise of online student growth and how this new program offers yet another path for SUU students to succeed.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and I'm joined in-studio today, appropriately socially distanced, by President Wyatt. Scott, how are you?

Scott Wyatt: Terrific, thanks Steve. It's good to be here.

Meredith: It's good to see you. I can almost see you.

Wyatt: Yeah, I've got my opera glasses. [Both laugh]

Meredith: Very good. So, President, this is part of an ongoing set of podcasts for us that are about innovation and we have titled this year, Innovation: Lessons Learned. And this particular episode is going to be just a little bit different from those because this one, we're going to be talking about a current innovation that we…we're not circling back to review what we've done, this is one that we're…

Wyatt: It's brand new.

Meredith: We're just about to launch, yeah, or has just launched. Anyway, we have a very special guest joining us today, a new staff member here in a very important position. Why don't you go ahead and introduce him?

Wyatt: Well, thank you Steve. We are delighted to have Dr. Jon Anderson, our Provost, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Chief Academic Officer. Jon, thanks for joining us.

Dr. Jon Anderson: I feel fortunate to be here, thank you for the invitation.

Wyatt: You've started something that we affectionately call, "SUU's Speedway." [Laughs]

Anderson: That's a unique name and I think it fits well.

Wyatt: So, I probably shouldn't use that in a public kind of a setting, but that's our internal code name for the program and we…but why don't you tell us what it is? This will not be the tagline on all of the publicity for it, but that's what we're calling it.

Anderson: So, as you look at innovation in higher education, there are many companies and many universities that are trying to expand their scope of operations and trying to diversify the student populations that they serve. And one of the populations we're trying to intentionally reach is the student who has yet to complete a bachelor's degree and has a pretty significant life commitment, whatever that might be, and in reaching that population, we've got to make sure that the way that we reach the population is very cost effective, very efficient, very affordable and allows a clear pathway for someone to enter the university and to complete a degree with some expediency. So, as we started looking at that population, we looked at what that population looks like at SUU. We began with the students who had attended SUU, accumulated some credits, but had not graduated. We looked at a window of time of students who had been out three years but no more than ten, had not graduated from SUU and had not graduated from any other institutions. That population is about 14,000 students and it's a huge part of the student body that passes through the institution. We started looking to find out how we can better serve them so that we can help them earn a bachelor's degree. In today's world, a bachelor's degree opens doors that really very few other credentials would. And so, we looked at what we were doing in the online market, and we have fabulous well-delivered, well-prepared online programs that run across most of our colleges and schools, we run at a price point that really is pretty efficient for the given market that exists, it's about $300 a credit hour, but we knew there were people who that price point was a little high for them. So, we started to look at financial models to see how we could lower the cost of education and reach that population who is likely working, likely raising a family, likely has many life commitments, but has yet to finish the bachelor's degree. So, as we did our financial modeling, we settled on a price point of about $79 a credit, which would allow someone to enter SUU Speedway Campus and finish a full bachelor's degree for under $10,000. I believe we're the first institution in the intermountain west to offer a full bachelor's degree for under $10,000. The Speedway Campus only offers one degree program and that is a Bachelor of General Studies, either a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies. It's a list of about 40 courses the student can complete to get to 120 credits and they can do that in entering in seven week sessions. They can start any seven weeks, finish the course—and take one course at a time if they want or take two courses at a time—but that allows them to progress toward the 120 credits they need to have a bachelor's degree. All of the courses are offered in an asynchronous online format, and so they can complete their studies at their own timeline on their own schedule. And this will allow them to be a graduate of Southern Utah University and receive all of the benefits of having a bachelor's degree at a much lower price point. So, that's a quick overview of the Speedway Campus and the market we're trying to reach there.

Wyatt: What do you anticipate being the biggest challenge? So, this has been going since the start of the semester.

Anderson: That's right.

Wyatt: You've got one cohort of how many students?

Anderson: We've got about 51 and we launched it about a week and a half before fall classes started. We launched it with just a few emails to that population of SUU students and we had 51 enroll and are taking classes right now. We anticipate we'll be a little over 100 in the second seven week session.

Wyatt: You…your discipline is as a business faculty member.

Anderson: Mhmm.

Wyatt: And your primary area of research has been strategy. So, you seem like the perfect person to innovate.

Anderson: I really enjoy it. [All laugh]

Wyatt: What do you think is going to be the biggest hurdles? How do you anticipate what those are, and then how do you prepare for that?

Anderson: As we enter a new demographic or population of students we're trying to bring into the institution, every population of students comes with their own unique challenges. For example, we have a lot more staff that support students outside the classroom now—and I'm talking higher education broadly—than we did 20 years ago because a different student comes to campus than did 20 years ago and they come with a different set of challenges. And so, we have to build the right set of support services to help every student succeed. We have to look at that in the face-to-face environment, we have to look at that in the online environment. One of the biggest challenges to making sure that this program succeeds is that we have to be very diligent about providing the right support services, not all of the support services because that would drive up the price point, but making sure that we have the right deliverable in terms of curriculum, the right faculty teaching in the classroom, the right support services so that the success rate of these students will be as high or higher than our other online programs or our face-to-face programs. We can only do that if we study the numbers very carefully. Many of these students, as I mentioned earlier, attended SUU at some point and we intend to broaden the market across the board to all populations very soon, but most of these students…or many of them have not had success in finishing or being a completer yet, and so they come with their own unique set of circumstances. And as this first cohort of 51 students work their way through and as we add to that each seven weeks, we are going to meticulously study what is working and what is not to make sure that we have that right mix that both keeps the price point low and provides the services the students need to succeed. That will be our biggest balancing act as we roll this forward.

Wyatt: So, this is almost a study for you?

Anderson: I believe that everything we do at the institution needs to be a study for us as an institution. If you look at what regional accreditors have down over the last 15 or 20 years, they've shifted to a model that they refer to as "institutional effectiveness," which is really a form of applied strategy in that they require institutions to intentionally state what they're going to do and who they're going to serve and then implement practices to serve that group and grow in the ways that they intend to grow and then assess to what extent they've accomplished what they said they were going to do. And so, this is a microcosm of that, but really that thinking, that institutional effectiveness thinking, is required for all institutions of higher education to implement across all areas. And as we shift and implement that model everywhere, we will have a much broader engagement in shared governance because everyone will be interested in how the money is spent, how the organizational decisions are made and whether or not it's having the impact on students that it should. So, this certainly…we will apply institutional effectiveness to this new innovation, but that shouldn't be unique here, that should be happening everywhere.

Wyatt: In your mind, does it affect the way that people see us? That we are a traditional face-to-face, residential campus who is now trying to do significantly more online, how does that shape the reputation of the school and the culture?

Anderson: So, that's a very interesting question and there's a lot of pieces of that we need to unpack. So, let's sort through what it means to have a reputation or a brand for a university in today's market. If you look back when I entered higher education some 20-odd years ago, and even before that, schools were very clearly tiered or placed in certain boxes. You're face-to-face, you're residential, you're in an urban environment or a suburban environment, and those boxes were very neat and tidy. If you really are a student of what's happening in academia today, you recognize that those boxes really don't exist anymore. And I'll give you a few examples from the state that I'm very familiar with where I spent a decade and a half in higher education: the state of Georgia has very different models. If you look at Georgia State University, for a long time, they prided themselves as being a face-to-face, residential, urban research institution, and they were very well known for doing that. Well, through a series of actions by the Georgia Board of Regents, they were merged with a small community college which was named Georgia Perimeter. They now have 50,000 or 60,000 and they serve the full gamut, the full array of student types. So, they are an urban regional institution, they are also an access institution, they also serve a function as a regional institution and they serve students that fit every one of those demographics. And I think as we move forward, we'll see more large research institutions become everything to everyone, rather than everything to a few, small, elite groups of students that are well-prepared to succeed at a university. And you can look across the board and see many different models, from Purdue to the University of Maryland to the University of Colorado State, that have expanded into multiple institutions within one institution that makes sense. And so, if we look at SUU, the regional universities that will be most successful in the future will be those that can balance their ability to be face-to-face, to be online, to serve an access market, as well as serving new populations of students and non-traditional students. That's really the model for the future. We can't really survive or thrive as an institution being one thing, and so, the more we're willing to adopt the idea that we need to be prepared to be able to deliver high-quality education through multiple modalities to multiple student populations, that will actually add viability and sustainability to our face-to-face student experience, which will remain one of the primary things that we do.

Wyatt: We talked to the director of our MBA program who said that with the growth of online, it actually grew the face-to-face.

Anderson: If you…let's talk just for a minute about what happens in industry. And you have lots of brands that have multiple price points, and they do that intentionally. And so, you'll have a brand like Eddie Bauer that's perceived and was perceived for a very long time as a high-end, prestigious brand, and before long, you'll see Eddie Bauer sold at a low-cost delivery point such as Wal-Mart. And they intentionally price different types of product for different markets and retain the brand recognition. And the way that they often do that is they leverage profits that they make at the low end to be able to sustain the innovation that needs to happen at the high end to maintain their market position there. In the strategic management literature, there's been some historical criticism of what they call a "straddle strategy," which is trying to hit multiple price points, but more and more institutions and those in the for-profit sector are becoming successful by balancing their pricing models well, and universities that do that well will be successful. And so, the MBA is a perfect example. We signed a partnership with an online program manager that's drastically increased the marketing that we have for that program, and really allowed our brand to be introduced into markets that it wasn't well known before, and by doing that, our online program…we'll now be over 400 students in the MBA total, but as soon as someone starts to become aware that it's a viable, strong program with a great reputation, they then will ask the question, "Well, I want to be part of that, but how should I be part of it?" And the answer for some of them will be, "online;" the answer to some of them will be, "face-to-face." And people want to be a part of a successful thing, and so, if you can brand it well, have it succeed, have it grow, and then deliver it in many modalities, you reach greater populations and they begin to feed off each other, and that brand continues to grow and expand. Let me just add one other piece to your earlier question, and that is: does offering programs of multiple price points and to different populations dilute the brand image of an institution? That's an important consideration, and I really fundamentally believe that the broader the brand is, the more recognized the brand is, the more success that every modality will have. So, as people hear about SUU being successful in any one area, that begins to bleed over to lots of other areas and the whole institution begins to elevate. It's true that the rising tide lifts all boats, and the same thing happens with the brand of an institution. As it begins to be recognized, everything gets elevated. Now, that doesn't mean that all degrees are equal, and that's nothing new to institutions of higher education. We have lots of bachelor's degrees, some of which are incredibly quantitative, meaning they require lots of math and science and a certain type of analytical thinking. We have lots that are based in…lots of degree programs that are based in the humanities or based on qualitative study and require a different kind of thinking. And so, it's best for a student, when they come in to try to figure out what they're interested in studying and try to figure the degree program that will best fit their skill set and what they want to do when they graduate. And so, those deliberate decisions aren't anything new. What we need to be able to do is to provide a degree program for every student that enters SUU to be able to graduate from SUU. That means we will have some that are incredibly rigorous. We'll have some that allow a student who may be a B or a C student, but works very hard, to still be able to graduate from SUU but in a degree program that may not be as rigorous but of equal quality and that student will receive equal attention from faculty and staff as they work their way through the program.

Wyatt: What do you do to bring the price point down to $79 per credit? That's pretty dramatic.

Anderson: It's very dramatic, and there has been a lot of press given to programs who try to do something similar, and they act as if that program is a standalone organization that could survive by itself. And in reality, that is not true, and I'll give you two examples. In the University System of Georgia, they have two programs called the University of Georgia USG eCore and a second program called eMajor. They're both offered at a very reasonable price point, but they do it at that price point because they don't have full-time faculty who exclusively teach in the program. They rely on the full-time faculty from campuses who teach as an overload or they hire adjuncts to teach in the program. When you pay as an overload or as adjunct, the price point for a course drops from roughly $12,000 per course to about $2,400 or $3,000 dollars. So, it's a different financial model that cannot exist by itself. It can only exist as it's attached to an institution of higher education. So, that's exactly the model we set up with Speedway. So, all of the courses will be taught either by full-time faculty teaching overloads, or by adjunct faculty, and as such, the price point is about $2,400 dollars…the instructional cost is about $2,400 dollars per three credit-hour course. And doing that, the break-even is about 15 or 20 students to make sure that we're covering instructional costs. And that's how we drive the price point down. But it could not exist on its own without being affiliated with SUU.

Wyatt: Well, and the…talk to us about what general education looks like, what electives look like, what the major course requirements look like, and what the actual degree looks like?

Anderson: Sure. So, I want to be clear that this entry into this market to allow students to complete at a very low price point, we never intend to expand that beyond one degree program. We're finalizing a list of 40, it will end up being 41 or 42 classes that will be part of this. And so, it will be 120 credits and that's it. And so, if a student begins in Speedway and wants to graduate with a degree that is something other than general studies, if they want to finish a degree that's something other than a Bachelor of General Studies, they would have to—we're referring to it as "leveling up." So, a student could come in at a $79 price point, they could finish their general education, take a few elective courses, but if they want a degree in something else, whether that's history or political science or marketing, any of the degrees that we offer online, at that point, they can switch their major and enter the SUU online campus, pay at that price point, have access to greater resources and different courses, and continue on their studies in that direction. So, those 40 courses, we have 30 general education credits that are part of that, we have essentially a block that looks like a lot of family and human development—psychology, sociology, that type of courses. We have a block that focuses on essentially American institutions, it has a lot of history, a lot of political science. And these are all courses that have been developed by faculty here through Online Teaching and Learning. So, they're high-quality courses that have been delivered multiple times. So, we have the general education, then we have the block that looks like a family/human/personal development, we have a block that looks like some kind of American institutions, and then we have an elective block that students can bring in whatever courses they've had, whatever credits they've had to fit in that block. We also have a prior learning assessment course we're encouraging all students to take, which based on their previous experience, they can earn between three and fifteen credits as they put a portfolio together as it equates those experiences they've had to learning outcomes. So, prior learning assessment is a big part of Speedway and this Bachelor of General Studies program. So, that's the nutshell of the curriculum and now that will be delivered through that program.

Wyatt: So, the target right now, at least in the initial pilot program, are students that have come to Southern Utah University and didn't complete for any number of reasons?

Anderson: That's right.

Wyatt: And that means that those students already have some credits.

Anderson: Mhmm.

Wyatt: And they would get credit for that, and that would reduce the cost significantly more and the time.

Anderson: Certainly.

Wyatt: But if I have no credits, let's just project out a year, and I sign up for this program, how much choice will I have in my general education?

Anderson: If you stick with the Bachelor of General Studies and stay in the Speedway program, general education will consist of 30 credits and their prescribed courses that are offered at that price point. And so, you will get an experience in general education from each of the areas that will complete the general education block, just like it would for any other bachelor's degree at SUU, but those courses will be prescribed and there won't be very much choice at all.

Wyatt: And then for the electives, what kind of options are there?

Anderson: So, if you stay with the price point, and we're doing this very intentionally so we can keep that price point low, there are really no options you have to choose anything other than what we're offering for those 120 credits. So, you get 41 classes—and the reason we do 41 is there are some that are one credit or two credit classes—but 41 classes that equal 120 credits that is the Speedway Campus. That's the package wrapped up in a nice bow. We're going to manage it and learn how to deliver those classes more and more efficiently, and we want to help students have a path at a low price point to finish. If they want something else, we have a huge portfolio of online programming and face-to-face offerings which they can enter, but if they stay within the Speedway Campus, they will…there aren't many choices at all that they'll make in which courses to take.

Wyatt: Well, we have…you know, nationwide we have a lot of majors that the entire thing is prescribed.

Anderson: That's correct.

Wyatt: You know, a nursing program, you're not picking a lot of electives.

Anderson: You're not at all. And I'll tell you, it's an interesting argument and an interesting discussion that we need to have as a university and as an academy. If you look at the structure of a bachelor's degree—let's just look at the last 50 or 70 years—almost every discipline has dramatically increased in the knowledge that is available to teach. So, what we've done, and many degrees look like this, is instead of staying at 120 credits, they'll say, "Well, we need to teach this and we need to teach that and this is new knowledge, we've got to include that." And all of the sudden, the major portion of a bachelor's degree—meaning the credits and courses you need to take to complete the major—all of the sudden becomes not 40 credits, but 90 credits. And by doing that, we have begun to strangle out the purpose of general education. In the ideal world, we'd have a student who could enter a university, and their first 40 or 60 credits we could encourage them and force them through policy to take as diverse…take as a set of courses that are as diverse as anything they'd see anywhere else. So, you'd take some psychology, some humanities, some engineering. It would be a broad-based education. But because the amount of knowledge in each major has increased, we've really shrunk down general education to be a minimal exposure to a few disciplines, which I think really hurts critical thinking in the long run. And that's a serious conversation we need to have as an academy to figure out how we can keep majors to focus on their content area within a set of credits that are reasonable to allow general education to be truly general and not become more and more specific.

Wyatt: So, we've got a very directed program in the Speedway Campus, we have a very robust program in the online campus, and an even more robust set of offerings in the face-to-face campus.

Anderson: That's correct.

Wyatt: Three different modalities for three different types of students who have a variety of goals.

Anderson: Mhmm. And I think we'll be most successful if we look at them as three different options to reach different student markets. In a worst case scenario, we'll have students who are sitting in residence halls taking all online classes. If a student can walk across the street or down the street and be on campus, there is a set of experiences they can have in a face-to-face environment that they will miss if they're a purely online student. So, I hope we keep those populations distinct so that if a student can be face-to-face, that's their preferred option. If a student does not work here or has work commitments or life commitments that keep them from engaging fully in the face-to-face environment and they're not here in Cedar City, that they choose an online option. If they just need a degree and it doesn't matter what the major is, the Speedway Campus is a perfect option for them. And so, we've tried to provide as many pathways as possible for them to finish.

Wyatt: What's interesting about this innovation that you've been leading is that some of the main criticisms of higher education, whether they're justified or not, but some of the criticisms that fill the discussion nationally include: the cost is too high, the debt is too much, it takes too long ,it's not convenient so it's hard, if I'm in a major in a class, I've got to move or drop my job or something so that I can be in a classroom at 10:00 on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and then I've got to be in a classroom at 2:00 on Tuesday/Thursday. All of those things work perfectly well for some people, but they don't work perfectly well for everyone. But this really strikes at the heart of cost and convenience and providing upward mobility for those that otherwise, it's just not possible for whatever reason.


Anderson: You can imagine…I'll give you a few personal examples if I could just take a moment on that. I remember as a…maybe a five year old, going with my mother to attend an elementary school class so she could finish an education practicum I believe it was, that she needed to finish to complete her degree, I think in elementary education. And it really didn't matter what her degree…what the major that she was studying was or what degree she would earn, she wanted to be a university graduate or a college graduate. And I've reflected on that over and over and have thought, "There are probably a lot of women in Utah because of the demographic we have who get married young and have children and stop going to school. And many of them may want to just finish so they have a degree so later they can go back and get a graduate degree or other things and have the opportunities that are open to a college or university graduate. And if we can provide a way that, whether it's a mother at home, whether it's someone who gets a job and is located to a rural area when they don't have access to higher education but need a bachelor's degree to move up into a management position, whatever that population is, we need to be able to serve that as a regional institution. And this is our way that we can help people live the life that they choose to live and also have access to higher education at a price point that's reasonable.

Wyatt: We're not reading a lot in the news about how universities are pulling the cost of higher education down. [Laughs]

Anderson: That's very true. I wish we were.

Wyatt: In fact, Steve, how many have we read recently?

Meredith: About lowering the cost of higher education?

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: I'm going to say: zero.

Wyatt: Yeah, that's pretty rare.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: I'm trying to think of the last time I read one. So, we reduced the cost of our online programs here at Southern Utah University…

Meredith: We did.

Wyatt: A couple of years ago. But that was a modest reduction. This is a significant reduction. What do you hope to accomplish out of this? What do you think the ultimate outcomes will be?

Anderson: The ultimate goal is this: that every student who recognizes the brand of Southern Utah can have an answer to the question, "How can I earn a degree from SUU?" And as soon as they recognize that's what they want to do, we have a modality and a deliverable that will reach their situation. That's the goal. I think the longer you're in higher education—and I don't want to be overly critical of the for-profit sector, because they have done things that traditional higher education has not—but if you look at what the for-profit sector of higher education is delivering, often it's an inferior quality product at an increased price point. I came to SUU from Middle Georgia, while I was at Middle Georgia, there was a for-profit institution that did business under a number of brand names, one of them was Virginia College, and they had a branch campus probably within a mile of our Middle Georgia campus. Well, the numbers weren't looking right, the profit models weren't working the way that they intended to, so in the middle of a semester, they just closed their doors and left all of the students out to dry. And there are for-profit models that drive those decisions. I also had a very close friend who is working for one of the largest for-profit institutions and they weren't hitting their metrics because students were choosing other alternatives, and they walked in one day and shut down the whole branch campus and let everybody go. I think there are models that we can create that are much more sustainable, and provide a higher-quality education. We can do that because we have the backing of the state and part of the USHE that we're affiliated with, that we can deliver high quality at a low price point and still focus on delivering the student experience that they desire and make sure that they have the opportunity to finish. And that whole…so, you asked what we hoped the long term outcome of this is…I hope that this is a program that will compete directly with that for-profit sector, that will provide a reasonable price point at a public institution and will be able to increase the market share in that area and draw people to a higher quality student experience at a lower price point. And that we'll be a big player in that market that currently attracts students to for-profit institutions.

Wyatt: Well, and there's 36 million, more than 36 million people in America that have some college credit but no degree. Why did it take us so long to look at that as a sector that deserves…?

Meredith: Do you think…and I'm not speaking in behalf now of for-profit sector, but don't you think part of that for all the warts that we have seen and I think the three of us agree that the private institutions have, don't you think that focus on accessibility—not affordability so much—but convenience kind of forced the hand of the more traditional education world that we live in? For example, we have a university that we don't…doesn't advertise a great deal in Utah, but Western Governors University which is Utah based, is an enormous, over 100,000 student institution, and it's not wrong, I think, for us to admit to ourselves that Western Governors has forced us to look at the way we deliver things a little bit and that's to their credit and I think it's to our credit that we're beginning to finally make these changes and realize that there are these student pools that we're not serving very well in the traditional higher ed model. And I think it's…Southern Utah University under President Wyatt's leadership has been trying to find ways to be innovative in reaching our student groups, but it has kind of been tough for traditional higher ed to change or to add that product line a little bit, for some of the reasons you said. Some of them are cultural, some of them are price related and so forth, but I don't think it's unfair to say that the online providers have forced our thinking a little bit about this. Is that correct?

Anderson: There's an interesting academic argument behind what you just described, and I…let me just go down that track for just a minute if that's alright. In traditional economics, we believe that markets seek stability and that there's kind of a balance, and that's where higher education has been for a very long time. They served a specific market, that market wasn't changing very much, there was no need to change, everything was lined up just perfectly. There were some writing by a group of Austrian economists that argued that really markets don't seek stability, they are changing much more rapidly than we tend to give them credit for and the companies—and they are in the for-profit…that's where they did their research—the companies that are the most successful are those who identify that market shifts regularly and they participate in something they tagged as "creative destructionism," which is this simple idea that whatever you're doing right now that is allowing you to be sustained as an organization, someone else is going to figure out how to do it better. And as soon as they do, they're going to implement it and you will be dethroned as an industry leader, and…

Meredith: We've talked about that. The Netflix to…

Wyatt: Blockbusters to Netflix.

Meredith: Yeah, that's a very straight line from what used to be the king of video delivery to what is the king of video delivery now.

Anderson: Yeah. It is, and it's interesting you had said there are Western Governors and others that are forcing that conversation. The idea behind creative destructionism is if an organization wants to survive and continue to thrive, they have to be the ones to destroy their own current market advantage. You know, if Blockbuster would have said, "Hey, somebody else could do this online really quick" and they would have taken the lead…

Meredith: Right.

Anderson: We'd probably talk about Blockbuster not Netflix, right?

Meredith: Right.

Anderson: And so, organizations like SUU have to not wait for other people to do it, because we already know, and I'm sure you've talked about on the podcast, five years from now that the population of high school graduates is going to shrink pretty significantly. And if we don't, as an institution, ask deep questions about who we serve, how we serve, why we serve them, and which populations we're accessing, we won't participate in that create destructionism and there will be people who do. And so, what is recognized as our strengths now, someone else will own because they're doing them more efficiently, more effectively, and delivering it with higher quality. And so, we have to, if we want to be sustainable and continue to grow as an institution, be at the forefront of change and not wait to be reactionary.

Wyatt: It's interesting to think about all of those things, because we tend to enjoy the comfort of what we know.

Meredith: Well, it's not markets that seek stability, it's economists that seek stability. [All laugh] The people that...it's easier to study if it just stays the same, but the truth is, the world is kind of constantly changing. And the sands have shifted pretty noticeably under the feet of all three of us during the past ten years, but probably safer to say, "Yeah, in the past six months." COVID is a big sand shifter. There are lots of things that are causing, as you've suggested, this creative destructionism, which is a great term.

Anderson: It is, I wish I had coined in like in the 30s or something or the 1800s, I'll have to check when it was first used, but it is a beautiful term that describes exactly what we should be doing. And let me just mention one other thing about process. So, we've talked about serving different markets, we've talked about different types of degree programs that help students work towards graduation at different levels, the level of their own preparation and willingness to work. The other thing I think we have to look at is how do we change a university? And universities…the hallmark of university is that you have highly educated people whose hallmark of communication is civility who are open to new ideas and love the idea of learning about what is new and what is coming within their discipline, across organizations, those things. We have this principle that we call shared governance, and if we're really looking forward to what is next and what is coming into the future, we have to engage shared governance to make sure that all those educated people that we have as part of our organization have avenues for engagement in defining the future. And it doesn't make any sense at all to me to have—which we have, in the division that I lead, we have close to 300 PhDs—it doesn't make any sense to me not to listen to them and not to engage them in the conversation. And I think SUU has done a great job doing that and we need to continue to work on our internal processes so that all faculty, all staff have mechanisms that when they have an idea, which may or may not come out of or associated with something that we're thinking up at Old Main, but they have an idea, they have an avenue to bring it forward, and we have this constant flow of ideas, things that are working, things that aren't, we're shifting back and forth, and that flow of shared governance really is the genius that allows us to identify most efficiently what is next and how we can best change.

Wyatt: I like the way you describe that. I would say it's slightly less complimentary. [Laughs]

Anderson: That's fair.

Wyatt: That the institution needs to do a better job of involving every employee, including these 300 PhDs and a whole lot of very sophisticated less than PhD staff members. And perhaps, Steve and Jon, one of the reasons why we're doing this podcast is to communicate out that we value innovation, that it's coming from different sectors, that we want to promote that, we want to send the clear message that we allow space for people to work in innovation and be successful and if they work and are not successful, that that's OK because, as any entrepreneur would say, they fail more often than they win, but every big win is a risk. And so, we have to give space for people to fail. So, I think that's one of the reasons why we're doing this is to encourage everybody to join in, and how to do it. What message would you give to an employee of SUU, or any employee at any institution like ours? How does an employee initiate innovation? How does that happen?

Anderson: I'll tell you a few things, and the first thing is: an employee, a stakeholder, I would include trustees, alumni, all of those people who have some affiliation with the institution, the first thing they've got to do is believe that we can be better and we can serve students better. If that is the fundamental assumption of all of us, as we're hiking in southern Utah or getting ready for work in the morning or whatever we're doing, if we take some time to set apart just to focus on the application of that question, "How can we serve students better?" They'll come up with ideas. "We could do this, we could do that, we could shift over here." As soon as you have an idea, write it down, and then don't send it to Old Main first. The first thing you ought to do is sit down with the people you work with or the people who it may influence. So, if you have an idea of something that could happen in student affairs or finance, or any of the other…alumni relations, have a conversation with them first and say, "I had this idea. You tell me if it's a good idea or if I should just stick it in the file that never lets good ideas out." Some file that sits aside or the good ideas that won't ever happen because they're a good idea in my mind but not other people's minds if that makes sense.

Wyatt: Mhmm.

Anderson: So, if they start to vet it with those who are close to them, that's an important first step, and that's where shared governance begins. It's an idea that, "My idea needs to be vetted by other people to see if it has validity, to see if we've tried it before, to see if it may have the impact that I hope that it does." And the best ideas that really have legs that can carry us forward, people will start to join and you'll start to build a little coalition that will say, "We really could make this work." And then it will start to make its way through the shared governance process, which is a Staff Association, which includes the Faculty Senate, which includes the student government organization, which includes the administration. It will start to work its way up. So, don't think that every new idea needs to come to the top first. Vet it widely first and see if there are ways it can be morphed, modified, changed, adopted, and then work through the internal processes to allow those ideas to come to fruition, which can be a long and frustrating process. But shared governance is not the most efficient way to manage, but in the end, it's probably the most effective way because it has so many layers of filtering, working, and reorganizing, combing of ideas that really lead us to what is best for the moment, because we've got so many good minds working on it.

Wyatt: Most of the best ideas are organic. They grow up. I was really interested in how you described that, because some people can come up with an idea and then immediately take it on their own to an administrator and say, "Will you fund this idea?" But…and that may be a solution oftentimes. But to take an idea and vet it out on your own level with your own peers, start building it and watch the momentum grow, sometimes that's the best way to get full support funding and buy-in from large groups of people that can help you be successful.

Anderson: I completely agree with that. I also believe that that learning arrow goes both ways. It's easy as an administrator to think that we've got the answers, that we know how things should be run. But in reality, we spend our days working on models and budgets and relationships and meetings, and there are faculty and staff who work with students every day. And so, sharing what we know with faculty and staff and sharing what they know across the board with all facets of your organization, that's how learning as an organization can happen. One thing that we've begun this year is all administrators within academic affairs or teaching, when we started to talk about that, I got a little bit of pushback saying, "We've got jobs and things to do." I fundamentally believe that administrators make better decisions when they're closely connected to the classroom and the students. And so, I think it's good to have administrators teach for that very reason, because their perspective shifts and it connects them. They may be walking down the hall or connecting with other faculty members having conversations that wouldn't happen otherwise, so, making sure that we inform faculty and staff about budget processes, about strategy, about all of those things and we engage them in the process. But we also…to inform them, but we also listen and learn about what their experience is. And that interchange is a huge part of shared governance. It really builds a shared culture at the institution. They can help us all be on the same page as we move forward.

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We've had as our guest in-studio today Dr. Jon Anderson who is the new Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs here at SUU. Jon, this was a fascinating conversation, thanks for joining us.

Anderson: I certainly enjoyed it, thanks for the invitation.

Meredith: And thanks to you, our devoted listeners, for tuning it. We'll be back again with another podcast very soon. Thanks, bye bye.