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Education Outlook: David Hinson

Drury University Executive Vice President, Chief of Staff, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Information Officer

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David Hinson has his office in administration and his ear to the ground on campus as Drury administrators work through a 25-year master plan and a new academic program, Your Drury Fusion, they say represents the future.

2019 Projection: Students are more deliberative and cautious in their selections of schooling. People will wait and see, because of uncertainty, which will lead to flat enrollments.

SBJ: What’s the biggest economic opportunity and threat on higher education right now?
Hinson: Student debt is on everybody’s mind. Depending on the metric you look at, that will run anywhere from $24,000 to $27,000 on average that students graduate with. That’s always in the background – how do you pay for this education? For colleges and universities, it’s making the case: Why make the investment in yourself and what happens on the other end?

As we think about our academic programs, our graduates need to be market ready. Employers are spending less money on training – they expect them to be ready to go. We are keying into that.

SBJ: How do you see schools balancing the desires for higher ed and employment opportunities out of high school?
Hinson: You definitely have to prove your value. We have 6,000 higher education institutions in the country. You have to provide more value than just your name recognition. It’s not just a matter of lowering your price.

A lot of schools get a little hide worn, in terms of not being sensitive to that. Schools have to listen to the business community to see what the needs are. They have to be aware of changes in pedagogy and delivery of content. Being a sage on the stage and delivering lectures is not what students are used to. They are used to project-based learning and more engagement. If you are a school that is not attune to those changing needs, students have a choice.

SBJ: Where have you seen first-year salaries headed? What are the best-paying jobs right out of college?
Hinson: I think if you do that, it’s really hard to aim where the puck is going to go – to borrow a Wayne Gretzky analogy here. I think that’s the wrong approach. If you go to school trying to rifle shot a popular profession, by the time you finish, you might have missed the mark entirely. It’s really having a broader approach to education. How can you continue in lifelong learning?

Cybersecurity is really strong. Animation is very popular. But I think it’s wrong if you try to steer a student to those strictly. It’s really a more holistic approach to take with students. You have to have the offerings.

SBJ: According to the College Board, 42 percent of undergraduate students were enrolled in community colleges in 2014-15. Is that a surprising or alarming stat from a private university perspective?
Hinson: No, it’s just reflective of the economic realities. You have to remember that the 18-year-olds that come to campus, all they’ve known is life post-the Great Recession. They’ve always dealt with maybe tighter economic means and maybe not as much equity in the home. They’ve looked at ways to maximize their education. Maybe a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree. If so, maybe it’s maximizing the value you can get out of your bachelor’s to pay for your ongoing piece of education. It’s not at all surprising. Community colleges are as strong as they’ve ever been because the opportunity is there.

SBJ: What’s the pulse of the modern university campus?
Hinson: From a meta conversation, nationwide, you’re finding less and less data centers and less investment in on-campus employment of those specialized skills and more and more partnerships. For example, last year we outsourced our residential network to a company called Apogee. They handle the bandwidth, all the copyright infringement, online help. That is all contracted as a service. Now, my technology staff can focus on desktops, the systems that support the college. And we’re looking to get out of the data center business, to where that will be cloud-based and we may potentially outsource the management of the infrastructure there. It’s all about aligning what you do with the ongoing mission and getting out of the business of things that detract from the mission. That’s the most exciting thing happening on campus, getting back to our core values, which is creating great students and graduates. You can chase a lot of shiny objects to appear to be innovating and lose focus on what you’re trying to do, which is educating.

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