This past fall I took a new job and moved to Colorado. This fulfilled a lifelong dream and I am so glad Campus decided to open their US office in Denver. Starting in early September I began reaching out to over 500 colleges & universities about our product. This has involved sending about 2,000 personalized emails, lots of phones calls, online and in person demos of our product and more.

Below are just a few of the many things I have noticed about returning to work in higher education:

1. Higher Ed Strategic Plans lack diversity.

Most schools realize there has been an increase in student diversity in past years, leading to much different student bodies. Anecdotally, the schools who commit to diversity and put a variety of unique leaders in place seem to have better success in actually becoming more diverse.

While you likely know that most schools want to improve retention and graduation rates, you may be surprised to learn that schools are losing around 20% of the students who start with them as freshman. Losing 1 in 5 of your customers who have already made a buying decision and opted out? Not good. It also costs schools hundreds of millions in lost revenue per year. Schools get this is an issue, but many plans are vague on how they are addressing retention and declining graduation rates.

My favorite recommendation is to have one person in charge of retention efforts at a university. Often those people will have an unfunded mandate to improve retention and cannot make significant headway against the challenge of retaining students.

If you are going to take time to put together a strategic plan for your school, at least make it interesting to read and useful moving forward.

2. Innovation is a focus.

Chief Innovation Officers are now a thing in higher education. They actually exist! Having executive level people focused on helping schools grow and change into the future is an exciting development for higher education. In talking with these folks the last few months, they are the ones who are very open to change and in-tune with bettering the space.

Not only are people being hired to innovate, countless articles and books are being written to support innovation in higher education. My personal favorite is “The Innovative University” by Clayton Christensen.

In addition to these developments there are groups like the University Innovation Alliance which is committed to being at the, “forefront of America’s efforts to regain its educational edge and increase economic opportunity and mobility.”

3. Introducing the “Chief Innovation Officer.”

When we talk with Chief Innovation Officers (CIOs) they are passionate about change. They are not just passionate about change for the sake of change, but change for helping students get more out of their investment in their own higher education. They are willing to look at new ideas and technology that can improve the university experience for students.

Too many times when we talk to administrators about our product, they don’t even know if they are in a position to move change forward in their contexts. Chief Innovation Officers do not have this challenge – their whole mandate is to look at what could be, and make it happen.

I predict we will see more and more people with CIO as their title. This is a good thing for the future of higher education.

4. Small endowments, big trouble.

In talking with so many schools the past few months it is clear non-elite smaller schools are struggling to keep up with their larger and wealthier competition. Many times we talk to administrators at these schools and they don’t have the time or funds to invest in technology that can help them in exactly the areas they need help in. They see the need, but for the reasons stated above, cannot make it happen. Just from a technology perspective they will continue to get left behind.

5. School’s should proactively partner with each other.

Too many times schools only think about partnering with other schools when they are in dire straits. Why can’t more schools think about partnering now? What do they do best? What do they need help with? Who are the schools near them where there are redundancies and a declining student pool to recruit from?

Visionary leaders and boards are and will begin to ask these questions before they have to. Those who do will be stronger going forward.

There were many other things that I am noticing and learning through reading websites, strategic plans, talking with administrators, being on campus doing demonstrations of our product and more. It has been and continues to be a fascinating journey working alongside higher education as a technology partner and advocate for higher education.