A handful of universities are taking a web page from the company world’s playbook and hiring for a brand new senior-level place — chief expertise officer.
The job title is widespread in fields like well being care, know-how, finance, and leisure, and its duties sometimes contain coordinating throughout departments to make sure that prospects have satisfying interactions with an organization. Practically 90 p.c of firms surveyed by the analysis agency Gartner in 2019 employed a chief expertise officer or comparable place, up from 61 p.c in 2017.
The title hasn’t been as extensively adopted in larger training, which historically bristles at likening college students to prospects; a Chronicle search discovered solely 5 universities with such a place, and a search of job listings posted in The Chronicle previously two years discovered none with the title “chief expertise officer.”
Regardless of such small numbers, the arrival of the job title in academe speaks to bigger developments, just like the rising adoption of enterprise practices in larger ed in addition to considerations about how the general public’s eroding opinion of the sector is likely to be pushed, at the least partly, by widespread frustrations with making use of to, enrolling in, and finishing school.
And the job could possibly be gaining traction. Robert Morris College, in Pennsylvania, turned the newest to introduce a chief expertise officer when it tapped a longtime student-life chief to fill the position this month. The College of Utah and William Woods College, in Missouri, have additionally added the cabinet-level positions within the final 12 months. The job’s exact duties in a higher-ed context appear to fluctuate, however broadly talking, CXOs’ work is a mix of promoting, scholar affairs, and admissions; they’re charged with recruiting and retaining college students, simply as human-resources officers do for school and employees members.
Judy D. Olian, who as president of Quinnipiac College introduced on a chief expertise officer in 2021, mentioned the job’s purview will be distilled to this: “All the things to do with lecturers is underneath the provost, and every part else that’s student-facing is underneath the CXO.” Olian created the place as a part of an administrative restructuring on the Connecticut campus, and her resolution was knowledgeable partly by her personal background as a business-school dean. “It was,” she mentioned, “much like what I had seen and heard about how organizations are making a buyer interface that’s extra seamless.”
She employed Thomas Ellett for the job. A former student-affairs administrator at New York College, he oversees enrollment administration, scholar affairs, the registrar’s and bursar’s places of work, and public security. Ellett has made interactions with college students a precedence; he and his spouse, an assistant professor of nursing at Quinnipiac, stay in a residence corridor. He has shaped a number of student-advisory boards with which he consults on plans.
Ellett has additionally drawn criticism from at the least one scholar, whose column within the scholar newspaper described him because the “chief of limiting expertise.” However Olian, who spoke on behalf of the college in regards to the new place, mentioned that such criticism is to be anticipated, given the position’s visibility. “Anybody who indicators a parking memo or a eating memo goes to get pilloried,” she mentioned. Ellett’s prominence on campus could make him a simple goal, she mentioned, but it surely additionally makes it simpler for college students to strategy him with their considerations.
“There are two methods about dealing with people who have points. One is to make it actually laborious for them to seek out who to speak to. The opposite is to make it simpler for them to seek out who to speak to and to problem-solve,” Olian mentioned. “I suppose the previous technique will increase the frustration. I believe the latter technique could make you a bit extra weak, however it’s precisely the way you wish to be responsive.”
A Broad Scope
Whereas the job of a chief expertise officer may resemble that of, say, a vice chairman for scholar life, its scope is broader, mentioned John Locke, who was lately named Robert Morris’s CXO. “It’s extra complete than simply scholar life. It’s ‘From the minute they get out of their automotive to the minute they cross the commencement stage, what’s that have been?’” The job’s scope extends even past college students to incorporate dad and mom and households, whom Locke additionally counts amongst his constituents.
Although the job title could also be unfamiliar in academe, its emphasis on the significance of scholars’ expertise is likely to be extra “digestible” to college students who aren’t aware of campus administrative buildings, mentioned Kevin Kruger, president of Naspa: Scholar Affairs Directors in Larger Schooling. As a single ombudsperson to whom college students can air their grievances, “you get blamed for lots, but it surely actually helps college students see that their establishment is making an attempt to create a extra unified expertise,” Kruger mentioned. On the similar time, he mentioned, faculties ought to clearly talk the necessity for a chief expertise officer, to keep at bay perceptions of corporatism or administrative bloat.
On the College of Utah, the position of a CXO sounds quite a bit like that of one other more and more standard job title — vice chairman for scholar success, who is usually assigned to assist clear away bureaucratic obstacles to college students’ educational progress. Taylor R. Randall, the college’s president, wrote that he’d employed a CXO partly as a result of his campus could be very decentralized. “Our college students usually face an unnecessarily complicated array of providers, actions, and initiatives,” he wrote in his announcement of the hiring of Andrea Thomas, an assistant dean at Utah’s enterprise faculty, as CXO. “This confusion can result in extended time-to-degree, delayed entry into majors, pointless frustration, and a diminished general scholar expertise.”
Thomas’s activity, then, is to streamline a few of these processes. For instance, she mentioned, she’s engaged on a centralized portal the place newly admitted college students and their dad and mom can get key data earlier than arriving on campus — particulars about housing assignments or subject-specific students’ applications — all whereas drumming up enthusiasm to “actually reinforce the choice that they made to use to the College of Utah.” She’s additionally a liaison on initiatives that span a number of departments, reminiscent of a brand new living-learning neighborhood that introduced collectively employees members from housing and from an educational unit.
At Southern New Hampshire College, the CXO place, which has existed since 2017, has performed a key position in some coverage adjustments, mentioned Paul J. LeBlanc, the president. Amongst them was the choice to maintain student-services places of work open till midnight through the week, along with weekend hours, to higher accommodate the schedules of working college students. “If we didn’t have that particular person, I’m undecided that anybody particular person inhabiting one a part of our forms would have made that case,” LeBlanc mentioned. Extra lately, Susan Nathan, the chief expertise officer, advocated for educational advisers to obtain coaching in trauma-informed counseling, and for the advisers’ caseloads to be lowered so they may present college students with extra particular person consideration.
Making a top-level place devoted to the coed expertise doesn’t absolve others on the college from listening to it, LeBlanc mentioned. “Everybody’s acquired a duty, however nobody particular person can have their arms round the entire, until you’ve gotten a chief expertise officer,” he mentioned. “By analogy, I might argue DEI is everybody’s work, however I’m not going to not have a chief range officer trying on the entire, gathering the information, holding us to account, serving to us ahead our considering.”
Ellett, Locke, and Nathan have primarily educational backgrounds, however two lately minted CXOs have roots within the company world. Ted Blashak, who began as William Woods’s chief student-experience officer in 2022, has labored for Zovio, the ed-tech firm that introduced final 12 months that it’s going out of enterprise, and the higher-ed consulting agency Acadeum. The latter position, in actual fact, is what introduced him to William Woods; after Blashak made a set of suggestions for the establishment as a marketing consultant, the president, Jeremy L. Moreland, introduced him aboard to place them into follow.
Blashak sees his new job as a hybrid between a chief working officer, with a give attention to information evaluation, and a chief folks officer, with a number of in-person interplay with college students. Although he’s been within the put up for less than 9 months, he mentioned that blend had labored out effectively to date. Within the fall of 2022, Blashak’s first on the job, the non-public liberal-arts establishment noticed a 40-percent improve in new enrollment, bringing 269 extra college students to campus. Blashak mentioned William Woods initiatives one other sizable soar for this coming fall.
However Blashak’s job continues as soon as a scholar arrives on campus. He’s tailored to larger ed a typical company follow — buyer journey mapping, or charting all of the factors at which somebody may work together with an organization. “Over that scholar journey, there’s alternatives for us to grab the teachable moments exterior the classroom,” he mentioned. “That’s our alternative for an aha second to extend that scholar’s expertise and, as a byproduct, improve the college’s retention.”
Like Blashak, Thomas, at Utah, brings enterprise bona fides to the job. As a former government at Walmart, the Hershey Firm, and PepsiCo, she’s “not as uncomfortable with the thought of scholars’ and prospects’ being considered in the identical manner,” partly as a result of she doesn’t consider academe is altering its strategy in doing so. “You can be hard-pressed to seek out anyone on the campus who doesn’t wish to improve completion charges, who doesn’t wish to assist college students achieve success,” she mentioned. “I believe plenty of it’s simply in how we speak about this, that can assist folks not really feel prefer it’s such a departure from how larger ed has been working.”
Thomas, a Utah alumna who earned a doctorate in higher-education administration from the College of Pennsylvania, thinks she’ll have extra firm within the CXO position within the coming months. College students, she mentioned, are “actually hungry for what they’d been lacking” through the days of all-virtual instruction, and are extra wanting to become involved in on-campus life, in flip making a higher want for jobs like hers. And as demographic shifts nationwide ship extra nontraditional college students to the classroom, Thomas mentioned, CXOs can guarantee they get the help they want.
Kruger, of Naspa, isn’t able to name chief expertise officers a development that’s poised to take larger ed by storm. Conceptually, he mentioned, it’s not “earth-shattering,” since specializing in scholar expertise and engagement has lengthy been the bedrock of the student-affairs subject. However the title does enable a president to “message in a specific option to their constituents about what she or he thinks is necessary.”