Lessons Learned on the Higher Education Conference Circuit

It’s been a few weeks since the BDO Higher Education practice returned from the 2013 SACUBO Annual Meeting in Atlanta. About a month earlier, a number of us gathered in Boston for the EACUBO Annual Workshop.

At each of these gatherings, we have had the pleasure of meeting higher education professionals from across the United States; we have exchanged ideas about how best to address the myriad challenges—like declining enrollment, skyrocketing tuition, heightened financial scrutiny and scarce public funding—that institutions are grappling with each and every day; and we have explored some of the hottest trends in public education and the technologies and innovative ideas driving them.

Regular readers of this blog will find many of these topics familiar—we have written before about the importance of internal audits, the necessity of a careful look at executive compensation and the promise of MOOCs and other online tools—so we thought we’d use this post to share some fresh and exciting lessons we learned at the SACUBO gathering that could have a huge impact on higher education in the months and years ahead:

Information Security is Paramount: Theresa Payton, formerly the chief information officer at the White House, offered a stark picture of the vulnerabilities all institutions face to cyber crime and hacking during her plenary presentation. With smartphones and laptops in the hands of every student and faculty member, colleges and universities are among the most susceptible to a data breach. Payton urged administrators to review their IT security policies, to ask how institutions would respond to losing intellectual property, and to put protection policies and risk-mitigation plans in place as soon as possible.
Students are Gathering Online, Not On the Quad: We have all seen how social media has revolutionized our lives, both personally and professionally. This transformation, as you might expect, is being led by young people—the students of today and tomorrow. Michael Pursell, an associate vice president at ARAMARK, shared some revealing statistics during his SACUBO presentation: Americans are now spending an average of 441 minutes each month on Facebook’s mobile app; and 46 percent of people on Facebook are students. Pursell stressed the importance for higher education institutions to service their current students effectively in the social media space and to market to future students online. That’s where conversations are happening, reputations are being formed and important decisions are being made—and if institutions ignore the trend, they’re bound to be left behind.
These are Challenging Times—But There are ‘No Excuses’: Without a doubt, the most inspiring session of this year’s conference was the keynote address by Kyle Maynard. Kyle was born with a rare condition known as congenital amputation, which left him without complete arms or legs. But with uncanny determination, he has become a record-setting weightlifter, champion wrestler, martial artist and, recently, “the first man to crawl on his own to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.” Sharing his extraordinary story, Kyle told all of us that there are no excuses, that no obstacles are insurmountable. As we had each sat through session after session about the immense difficulties that lay ahead for higher education institutions, Kyle’s speech reminded us that any of these challenges can be overcome.
What was your favorite moment of this year’s SACUBO conference? Leave us a note in the Comments section below—and we hope to see you in San Antonio next year!