These might seem to be a rare combination of qualities, but I have seen them come together time and again in the successful leaders and their operations at colleges and universities across the country. I write often about the changing technologies and trends, but today I want to address the special qualities of successful leadership in this field that make this field special.

The mission of faculty support differs from many other offices. Sure, outcomes matter, but they are measured in terms of attitudes, knowledge and behaviors changed. This work is about advising and teaching teachers to frame their expertise in ways that most effectively educate the learners. As a professor emeritus, having taught for some four dozen years, I can say that some of my colleagues can have larger-than-life egos and are sensitive to criticism. So, it is often a delicate balance to bring about change without bruising or alienating the “client.”  For instructional designers, media specialists, course developers, accessibility coordinators, and the others who comprise the faculty support unit, special skills and qualities are required.

Perhaps most important for this field is a “positive intelligence.” Harvard researcher Shawn Anchor says that “(r)esearch shows that when people work with a positive mind-set, performance on nearly every level—productivity, creativity, engagement—improves. Yet happiness is perhaps the most misunderstood driver of performance. For one, most people believe that success precedes happiness…. But because success is a moving target—as soon as you hit your target, you raise it again—the happiness that results from success is fleeting. In fact, it works the other way around: People who cultivate a positive mind-set perform better in the face of challenge.”

Research in Britain by the Social Market Foundation and the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy showed that raising the spirits of workers (by sharing feel-good videos, snacks and drinks in this experiment) resulted in a productivity increase of an average of 12%, and reached as high as 20% above the control group. Maintaining positive spirits among the staff also rubs off on the clients. Faculty members take advice and criticism much more positively from support staff who are upbeat and positive in their attitudes and demeanor. And, this leads to success.

I often remind myself of this well-known quote from Albert Schweitzer: “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

As I write this article, I hear small outbursts of laughter interspersed among quiet discussion coming from down the hall in our Faculty Resource Center at the University of Illinois Springfield. A group of faculty, administrators and staff are working around a large table to come up with solutions to some significant problems. I know that mix of quiet discussion and moments of laughter is the sound of success.

It has been my finding that cultivating an essence of care and joy is the key to succeeding in this field. Leaders who generate this essence in their unit succeed. These are the units and individuals who are recognized for their successes. The units are comprised of individuals who love their work. They have a shared sense of joy in what they do. They are vested in the mission of making better learning opportunities for students and in helping faculty members succeed.

I know of no single formula to engender the attitude that leads to this shared essence in a professional, continuing and online unit, but it is easy to spot. When I visit a campus to share some advice with the administration, I always ask to see the support units (both faculty and student). I can instantly see it in their demeanor and in their eyes. Those who sparkle and smile, and have a positive comment are the ones who are succeeding. Those whose eyes are dull and heads downcast, are missing the spark of joy and shared love of the community that makes for success.

Try observing this yourself as you go through your day. Notice the people who seem to love their jobs and emanate a feeling of joy. They are the ones who are headed to success. Are you among them?


This article originally appeared July 17, 2019 in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning blog. 

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UPCEA, along with Higher Learning Advocates, and 17 other organizations, signed a letter supporting the ​Closing the College Hunger Gap Act of 2019​. This legislation would provide college students who may be eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with eligibility and application information and would require the Department of Education to collect data on food and housing insecurity.

Food insecurity is a growing and serious problem for today’s students. Estimates show that about one-third of college students experience some form of food insecurity. Further, while 18 percent of college students qualify for SNAP benefits, only three percent of students actually receive such benefits. With the pressing cost of tuition, work, and family responsibilities that today’s increasingly diverse college students experience, the inability to maintain access to nutritious meals are avoidable obstacles that should not get in the way of students’ postsecondary success.The ​Closing the College Hunger Gap Act of 2019​ would address this critical problem by requiring the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to add measures of homelessness and food insecurity to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), which is conducted every four years describing how students and their families finance postsecondary education. It would also notify students with a zero expected family contribution on FAFSA of their potential eligibility for SNAP benefits. Under this legislation, ED would consult with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other government experts to design the written and electronic information onthe SNAP notification process and assistance under the program.

The Closing the College Hunger Gap Act would significantly empower low-income college students’ with the information they need to reduce food insecurity on college campuses.

Read our letter to Congress here.

Today’s Students Coalition pairs unconventional allies in support of policy changes that reflect the shifting demographics of higher education

WASHINGTONJuly 23, 2019 — Ten of the nation’s leading education advocacy groups today announced the formation of the Today’s Students Coalition, which will advocate for policies responsive to the needs of the most diverse generation of college students. 

“In an economy where the vast majority of jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training, we need to rethink outdated assumptions about who today’s students are, the reasons why they participate in higher education, and the challenges and opportunities those students face each and every day,” said Kermit Kaleba, Managing Director of Policy for the National Skills Coalition. “We’re proud to partner with the other members of the Today’s Students Coalition to fight for policies that reflect the changing postsecondary landscape and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to succeed.”

According to the Lumina Foundation, more than 41 percent of today’s college students are over age 25. Well over half (58 percent) work full- or part-time, 34 percent are first-generation students, and 42 percent are low-income students. The Coalition draws on a cross-section of higher education organizations focused on this diverse student body, including adult students, parent learners, veterans, low-income students, and first-generation students. Founding members of the coalition include:

The coalition’s founding members recognize the urgent need for policy change and are committed to forging a new consensus, including a focus on three core policy principles:

  • Create Robust Student Supports: Today’s students require policies that support their needs, both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Modernize Student Financial Aid: Today’s students require a student aid system that is accessible, transparent, and adjusted for the realities they face.
  • Connect Learning Opportunities: Today’s students require flexible learning opportunities and connected pathways to and through education and employment.

“American higher education may have evolved over time, but that hasn’t happened by accident: it took students and advocates for affordability, access, and quality coming together to recognize that our mutual interests are greater than our biggest differences,” said Julie Peller, executive director of Higher Learning Advocates, which serves as the lead convener of the coalition. “We’re now at another moment for reforming American higher education by rethinking the policies that support it. We all share the belief that we need to rethink outdated assumptions about who today’s students are, the reasons why they choose to invest in higher education, and the challenges and opportunities students face each and every day.”

To learn more about Today’s Students Coalition and sign up for updates, visit

About the Today’s Students Coalition: The Today’s Students Coalition is a cross-cutting group of policy, advocacy, and membership organizations that have joined forces to advocate for urgently-needed policy changes that will better serve today’s students. The Coalition is focused on supporting this diverse student body, which includes working adults, parent learners, veterans, and first-generation students.

I admit it. I did the FaceApp thing and I shouldn’t have been surprised that the “old me” looks a lot like my father. However, like many others, I later learned through the media that there are potential threats and concerns regarding the ownership and permissions of the app. While the developers of the app are located in the Russia, my further research showed that the creators’ goal is revenue generation, and not necessarily to sell information on the dark web or influence the 2020 U.S. elections. While the possibility exists and has significant potential, I’ve concluded that some of the risks may have been exaggerated. What is more relevant are that the systems of many major cities globally are being hacked and ransoms are being demand (and being paid), that customer databases are being stolen from major retailers and corporations, and that our power grids and utilities are under cyberattack.

Unlike the webmaster craze in the late 1990’s, cybersecurity education and training is here to stay. And unlike when professional, continuing and online (PCO) education units rushed to the Internet to have a presence, and colleges and universities responded with webmaster programs (which for many were ultimately not sustainable), cybersecurity threats continue to increase, morph and become more sophisticated. They are also a threat to the lifeblood of an organization, its employees and customers. Cybersecurity impacts higher education at so many levels, such as protecting sensitive student and financial information, and exposing externally contracted faculty research, as well as employee and customer records. A successful cyberattack can also shut down operations, negatively impact the institution’s brand, force it to pay ransoms, and be in violation of codes and standards. While most institutions have taken measures to protect their systems and educate their employees about cyberattacks, why haven’t colleges and universities taken a more active role in defending society? Is society better equipped to train the network administrator, technology manager, chief information officer or president of the company on cyber issues?

Higher education has an opportunity for leadership and new longer-term revenues. While many institutions may not be able to respond quickly enough to technological advancement and changes, the investing into an area like cybersecurity offers many benefits. Read our latest whitepaper to see for yourself.

By SmartBrief Editors

This post is produced in partnership with UPCEA.

An effective and efficient professional education onboarding experience is not just “nice to have” — it’s a necessity. Learners expect a fluid, intuitive process, from start to finish. They are attracted to programs that will help them meet their goals and expect components designed to ensure ease of access and seamless experiences.

So what does this mean for institutions? In today’s increasingly competitive market–including public, private and community colleges–it means delivering efficiency and intuitiveness without sacrificing quality or rigor.

Here are some factors to keep in mind.

Don’t sweat the technical. Students arrive ready to learn. Let them dive into the content as soon as possible. Don’t make learners jump through numerous tutorial hoops or orientation sessions before they can get started. In the case of online professional education, provide tech support for those who need a little more hand-holding but don’t bog down the content delivery with irrelevant “how to” material. Most professionals know the drill and can easily adapt to a new system if the content design is user-friendly, with clear ‘start here’ signals. Respect their time and capabilities with a top-notch, immediate content focus.

Create connections among peers. It is true that many people want to learn on their own schedule but they don’t want to do this in isolation. Make sure you have systems in place to guide and support learners. Schedule office hours and meetups appropriate for the delivery method, including virtual office hours and gatherings. Pair learners with coaches and connect groups of students with peer mentors. Many professionals seek opportunities to develop their peer networks during educational experiences and connecting with peers on content is a great way to foster that activity.

Provide staff support. All students should have phone and email access to individuals who can help them get the most from their experience. If you need to route students to a general email address to better triage support make response times a priority. A stated ‘response time promise’ sets expectations and assure students that there is someone available to help them, even if they don’t necessarily know who that might be.

Foster peer collaboration. It has been said that editors make the best writers because they learn from the mistakes of others. The same is true of peer collaboration. Interacting with peers helps students wrestle through complex questions and refine ideas. Make sure you offer tools that let students share resources, hold discussions and edit each other’s work. These interactions are important systems of support that foster a well-rounded understanding.

How will you improve the effectiveness of your professional learning offerings?


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We increasingly hear employers, prospective students, and futurists saying that it is all about the skills, not about the degree.  What does that mean for higher ed?

Historically, employers made the baccalaureate, and in some cases advanced degrees, the gateway to an interview. If you did not hold the sheepskin, you would not get in the door. But, times have changed. Rapidly advancing technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics, robotics, and the advent of quantum computing have created an environment in which much of what is learned in college becomes outdated in a few short years. Certainly, the “soft” skills of creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, and leadership do not go out of date and remain in demand by employers. But, the “hard” facts and skills of most of the disciplines are changing as technology ripples through the economy and society. 

So, what we hear from industry is that they want workers with the soft skills that do not go out of date as well as a basic understanding of the current hard facts and skills that will be useful for just a few years before they must be upskilled for a new generation of technology. This combination of knowledge and skills may not require a degree.

Futurists such as Mike Colagrossi suggest in the future we will acquire skills rather than degrees: “Increasingly there are more and more renowned and prestigious companies that no longer require a college degree for work. Recently Glassdoor created a list of major companies where a degree wasn’t required. Some included powerhouses such as Apple and Google. Why the sudden cultural shift from the bigwigs?”  

Writing in the business magazine Inc, Justin Bariso quotes LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner on the qualities employers are seeking: “These are qualities that you don’t necessarily pick up from a degree. There are qualities…that have a tendency to be completely overlooked when people are sifting through résumés or LinkedIn profiles. And yet, increasingly, we find that these are the kinds of people that make the biggest difference within our organization. Increasingly I hear this mantra: Skills, not degrees. It’s not skills at the exclusion of degrees. It’s just expanding our perspective to go beyond degrees.” 

The US Labor Department is expecting that by the end of the year we will be facing a shortfall of more than two million skilled workers in our economy.  Corporations are already feeling the pinch.  For these openings they are no longer looking for white collar or blue collar workers, but, instead “new-collar” workers,  “(a) new-collar worker is an individual who develops the technical and soft skills needed to work in technology jobs through nontraditional education paths. These workers do not have a four-year degree from college. Instead, the new-collar worker is trained through community colleges, vocational schools, software boot camps, technical certification programs, high school technical education and on-the job apprentices and internships.” 

In this environment of changing expectations for applicants, higher education is taking yet another hit, this time from Google. The tech giant launched an IT Support Specialist certificate through Coursera in 2018 that is now enrolling tens of thousands of prospective applicants for the in-demand field of IT support. “Nearly 75,000 people have enrolled according to Natalie Van Kleef Conley, senior product manager for Grow With Google. And Conley said the program is just ramping up. Nationwide, over 150,000 IT support staff roles remain unfilled, according to data from Burning Glass Technologies. Federal data show the average annual starting salary for these jobs is $52,000.”  With Google in the lead, there is little doubt that other corporate leaders will follow, creating specialized certificates customized to their field. 

While this shift in employment requisites develops, we are now in the eighth straight year of declines in college enrollment. Hundreds of colleges have closed their doors in the past few years and hundreds more are teetering on the brink.

In the near term, I agree with LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, “It’s not skills at the exclusion of degrees.” But, increasingly, evidence of attainment of the stated skills will be mandatory. Also, increasingly the degree will become optional. Our business in higher education will be to fulfill those basic soft skills by certifying the core skills of creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, and leadership. At the same time, we must be ahead of the curve on teaching technological implementation; emerging practices and technologies; and cultivating in our students’ flexibility in the application of knowledge to new environments. To the extent that we succeed in these areas, we will keep the degree relevant to both employers and prospective students alike. Are you prepared for this changes? Will you lead the charge at your university to confront the emerging new realities of our role in the broader learning environment?


This article originally appeared July 10th, 2019 in Inside Higher Ed’s Inside Digital Learning Blog. 

UPCEA (the University Professional Continuing Education Association) and U.S. News & World Report recently hosted a lively and important discussion on the U.S. News rankings of online programs. The focus group convening, held on June 10 in the event space of 1 Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., was facilitated by Eric Brooks, Senior Data Analyst at U.S. News, and Julie Uranis, Vice President of Online and Strategic Initiatives at UPCEA. 

Leaders of online enterprises and institutional researchers from more than 50 colleges and universities gathered at the convening to discuss the methodology of the U.S. News surveys and the items, or questions, contained within the various surveys. The U.S. News education rankings team were also in attendance. 

“It was a treat to engage with so many experts in one room. They came with strong opinions and healthy skepticism. Most importantly, they provided valuable insights that will be strongly considered involving the 2020 edition of Best Online Programs, said Eric Brooks, Senior Data Analyst at U.S. News & World Report. “We at U.S. News take our research seriously because we believe rankings with strong analytical foundations will be taken the most seriously by prospective students. This gathering definitely aided this effort.”     

Convening attendees discussed numerous facets of the survey’s methodology, including overall categories and weights, combining data for multiple programs, distinctions between programs, and career outcomes.

”The rankings are important to institutions as they both validate the work done in online enterprises and create a buzz around institutional offerings,” said Julie Uranis, Vice President of Online and Strategic Initiatives at UPCEA, “yet I often hear online leaders express frustration at some of the questions included in the survey and the survey’s methodology. Bringing the team from U.S. News together with online leaders and researchers seemed like the highest and best use of UPCEA’s convening power.”

According to Asim Ali, Director of Auburn Online, attending the U.S. News Online Rankings Convening organized by UPCEA provided him and other online administrators the valuable opportunity to engage with the U.S. News team that publishes the rankings. Ali shared, “My goal in attending was to better understand the elements of the survey, how it is conducted, and how the results are used to develop the rankings. As a result of attending I was able to meet that goal, better understand the perspectives of my peers, and be more informed about the annual online programs rankings.”

In light of the dynamic changes occurring across institutions today, Evangeline J. Cummings, Assistant Provost and Director of UF Online, found the convening well-timed. Cummings stated, “Getting universities together to discuss the latest developments across our institutions in serving students with flexible modalities is always a good thing. The challenge U.S. News faces now is best helping prospective students navigate a complex and nuanced landscape with clear and useful barometers of quality, value, and versatility.”

These perspectives were echoed by other leaders, such as Ann Taylor from Penn State University, Richard Novak from Rutgers University, as well as Daniel Horn from Johns Hopkins University who shared, “I’m very hopeful that the lines of communication will remain open moving forward.”

“What is clear is that there was a lot of interest and eagerness to share feedback with U.S. News, particularly around online quality, student indebtedness vs. affordability, and the tension between more exclusive admission requirements and the access mission of most online units,” Uranis said. “These conversations will continue and we’re eager to work with the team at U.S. News as they continuously refine and improve their survey instrument and methodology.”

The state of higher education today is new for most institutions and disruptive for many.  Having to lead through disruption can be rewarding yet risky.  Leaders may have experience in continuing and online education, as well as strong business and operational insights, but do they have good intuition into the impact of alternative credentialing and increased competition in online?   Do leaders have what it takes to guide not only their staffs through change, but bring campus administrators and faculty along for the ride?  With higher education at an economic crossroads, can institutions attract new talent, as well as retain top talent, in the midst of chaos, disruption and opportunity?

At first glance, the professional, continuing and online education (PCO) leader received a small raise between 2014 and 2018 according to UPCEA’s Salary, Staff and Structure surveys.  The most recent survey was conducted in the spring of 2018.  During that four-year period, much has changed as more institutions moved degrees fully online, created massive open online courses (MOOCs)and/or invested into alternative credentialing.  As a result, portfolios have become more complex and competition has increased.  Upon further review of leader salaries and factoring in adjustments for inflation, data shows that some leaders actually may have lost ground financially. 

Overall, the salary of the top administrator of PCO units has decreased (Table 1) when adjusted for inflation (real wages), with small institutions (those with PCO units with gross revenue less than $5 million) experiencing the largest drop in real wages (-16%). Medium institutions (those with gross revenue between $5 million and $15 million) had the second highest decrease in real wages (-6%), followed by public institutions (-6%) and large institutions (those with gross revenue over $15 million). Private institutions are the only segment that saw real wages increase from 2014 to 2018.

Table 1: Average Top Administrator Salary by Institution Size and Type (2014-2018)

The data (Table 2) shows that salary differs based on the title of the administrator, as Executive Directors had the largest decrease in terms of real dollars (-7%), followed by Deans (-6%) and Associate Vice President/Chancellor (-2%). Assistant Vice President/Chancellor had the largest increase (54%), followed by Director (15%) and Associate or Vice Provost (14%).  Caution should be taken when interpreted with small sample sizes.

Table 2: Average Top Administrator Salary by Title, 2014 versus 2018*

*sample sizes are for 2018 data


A review of the salaries for the top administrators of departments (Table 3) within the PCO unit (and not the top leader) shows the top executive/professional education administrator experienced the largest loss of real wages (-12%), followed by the marketing head (-10%) and the finance/operations administrator (-8%). The largest positive real wage changes were for the top administrators in charge of corporate training/partnerships (8%), online/distance learning (4%) and summer session (4%).

Table 3: Average Salaries of Top Department Administrators*

*sample sizes are for 2018 data


An analysis was also conducted based on size of the institution (Tables 4-6).  The largest real wage  decreases among the top department administrators of small institutions were in executive/professional education, which saw a 35% decrease, followed by finance/operations administrators (-31%) and marketing administrators (-19%). Summer session administrators saw the largest real wage increase (27%), followed by online/distance learning (14%) and international education (13%).

Table 4: Average Salaries of Top Department Administrators – Small Institutions


Online/distance learning administrators saw a significant increase in real wages among medium institutions, 20%. Summer session administrators (8%), international education administrators (5%) and non-credit programs (5%) had the next largest increases. The associate dean (-11%), finance/operations (-10%) and executive/professional education (-8) administrators saw the largest decreases in real wages.

Table 5:  Average Salaries of Top Department Administrators – Medium Institutions


Changes in the real wage at large institutions were less volatile than the other two revenue sizes, with the largest increase going to top corporate training/partnership administrators (8%), followed by both online/distance learning administrators and summer session administrators seeing increases of 4%.  Executive/professional education administrators (-12%), marketing administrators (-10%) and finance/operations administrators (-8%) saw the largest of the decreases.

Table 6: Average Salaries of Top Department Administrators – Large Institutions


An analysis was also conducted based on whether the institution was public or private (Tables 7-8).  Six of the top department administrators in private institutions did not see a significant change in their real wages between 2014 and 2018, changing by only +/- 3%. International administrators had the largest increase, going up 28% from 2014, followed by top degree program managers (13%) and summer session administrators (10%). Non-credit program administrators saw the largest decrease, falling 14%, followed by corporate training/partnership administrators (-10%).

Table 7: Average Salaries of Top Department Administrators – Private Institutions


The average corporate training/partnership administrator at a public institution saw the largest increase in real wages, going up by 14% from 2014. Summer session administrators and non-credit program administrators saw an increase of 8%. The average executive/professional education administrator had the largest decrease, losing 14%, followed by top marketing administrators with a decrease of 10%.

Table 8: Average Salaries of Top Department Administrators – Public Institutions