Making the Transition From the Private Sector to Higher Education

Making the Transition From the Private Sector to Higher Education
By Dorothy Bland

When I moved into the higher education arena earlier this year, my family was ecstatic to see that my new position had been mentioned in Jet magazine. My mother thought I’d have three months off a year to play since I was “teaching.”

My response: No way. As director of the Division of Journalism at Florida A&M University, I’m a year-round employee with many hats. Besides being a teacher, I’m a coach, marketer, change agent, catalyst, sales manager, administrator, adviser, writer/ editor and mentor to more than 500 students in the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication. Overseeing a multimillion-dollar enterprise with an award-winning student newspaper, radio station, educational access TV channel, magazine and Web sites comes with the job, too.

Over the summer, I participated in several professional development conferences and found that “innovation” and “transformation” remain hot topics in higher education and news industry circles. Managing change is a constant challenge in both arenas.

If you haven’t had a chance to read U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ report entitled “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education,” I encourage you to look at it.

The report reflects work done by Spellings’ Commission on the Future of
Higher Education.

Being a former newspaper publisher and now a professor, I find it interesting that four issues facing the media business also are challenges facing higher education — access, affordability, quality
and accountability.

There remains a need to diversify the leadership at most media companies so they reflect America’s growing diversity in readership and viewership. In higher education, the Spellings report noted a “troubling, persistent gap between college attendance and graduation rates of low-income Americans and their more affluent” peers.

Although a book released in June by the Southern Regional Educational Board shows that Blacks represent 21 percent of college students and 19 percent of the overall population in 16 Southern states, Black enrollment and graduation rates still lag behind those of Whites nationally.

That’s why historically Black colleges and universities such as FAMU, which was recently ranked the No. 1 producer of African-Americans with baccalaureate degrees in the nation by Diverse, are needed.

As I was cleaning out files recently, I came across an article I wrote as a reporter for USA Today on the state of HBCUs in the 1980s. The headline: “Choosing Black Schools, Colleges Fight to Keep Their Tradition Alive.” More than 20 years later, the struggle continues.

FAMU has captured national headlines for being placed on six-month probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for being out of compliance in 10 areas ranging from financial management to governance.

The probation doesn’t affect FAMU’s current accreditation status, and the university has six months to show progress. FAMU’s re-accreditation visit, originally scheduled for September 2007, has been pushed back a year to give us more time to prepare.

The SACS news is a public relations nightmare. Still, I’m thankful that Dr. James Ammons — our new president, a FAMU alum and former SACS commissioner — has made it clear that “We must discover the systemic root, implement a permanent fix and institutionalize these procedures.
We will hold parties accountable.”

Just as the newspaper industry is going through a major paradigm shift with discussions moving from “readers” to “aggregating audiences” and from a monolithic product to a portfolio of products, higher education institutions — especially HBCUs — should take note.

To not only survive, but thrive, we must do a better job of reaching more diverse audiences, improving marketing, expanding online course offerings and becoming more customer-centered.

For those who say we can’t afford to diversify, I say our survival depends on it.

If you’re looking for models of growth, consider Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, which saw a 59.2 percent jump in Hispanic student enrollment between 2002 and 2006. According to Dr. Jon Young, FSU’s senior associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, the 285 Hispanic students at FSU in the fall of 2006 represented about 4.5 percent of the university’s student population.

Just as the media business is undergoing a sea change and seeking multiple ways to diversify revenue streams, so should higher education institutions. That’s why we’ve developed a converged advertising model for student media at FAMU.

The Spellings report describes the financial aid system in higher education as  “confusing, complex, inefficient, duplicative and frequently does not direct aid to students who truly need it.” The report recommends that higher education institutions “improve institutional cost management through the development of new performance benchmarks.”

In simple terms, quality, integrity and accountability always matter.

— Dorothy Bland served as a reporter, editor and newspaper publisher for 25 years before being named  head of the journalism division at Florida A&M University earlier this year.



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