Our Community, Our Impact, and our Legacy
Northwest Suburban College
Dr. Ahmad, Distinguished Guests, Friends, ladies and Gentlemen
Thank you for that kind introduction. It is truly a pleasure and honor for me to be here this evening.
I would like to thank all of you for your warm welcome. Looking at you tonight I never felt so blessed
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Tajuddin Ahmad for inviting me to deliver this address. Both of us have a store of shared memory. Dr. Ahmad provides broad shoulders upon which we can stand. He is the source of strength and he inspires all of us not only to do well, but also to do good. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder with him for the vision we share, and the values we cherish and nurture. Let us give him a big round of applause
I am delighted to be here with you this evening because I feel a personal connection. We are linked by a common cause and a common goal: By a common vision and a common commitment.
I also feel a common bond THROUGH our shared history, shared heritage and shared belief.
That bond is much STRONGER than the differences that, too often, drive us apart. (Pause)
I accepted the invitation to join you at this celebration for three reasons;
The first is that I understand how important higher education can be in one’s life. I graduated from Aligarh Muslim University in India and then came to the United States and got two degrees in information technology from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
That higher education provided me with the basic knowledge, skills and abilities that I needed for success in the business world and as an entrepreneur. It provided me with the essential foundation for attaining and realizing the American dream.
The second reason is that I am passionate about higher education and what it can do to transform lives – especially for those who come from modest circumstances such as I did. I provide assistance and serve on boards ranging from my involvement with Montgomery County Community College to international institutions like Johns Hopkins University, American University and Marymount University.
I firmly believe education is the key to opportunity and the bridge to future success. The greatest gift all of us can give is the gift of education. It is the gift that keeps on giving. Education empowers the mind and uplifts the soul. It is a powerful equalizer for opening doors to all – to lift themselves out of the poverty. Education is the best investment we can make to build our next generations of leaders, innovators, and problem solvers. Education helps create higher aspirations. Higher aspirations propel individuals and nations forward.
My foundation supports scholarships at my alma mater, the University of Colorado, and other colleges here in the United States. My wife Debbie and I have donated $2M to build a school of business at Aligarh Muslim University. I firmly believe my investment will yield exponential returns. Aligarh students have always been our best hope. This is my way of saying thank you and keeping the hope alive
I look at the time and dollars that I contribute to higher education not as charity, but as investments. The return on those investments has been and will be graduates who will secure gainful employment and invest in the growth of the economy and help others climb up the ladder of success as well. (Pause)
The last reason for accepting the invitation to speak here at Northwest Suburban College is that when I did the research on your college I was inspired by what I found out about this institution. You have a clear and compelling vision and mission and are doing excellent work in an area – higher education – that needs excellent work – much more excellent work.
I know the theme of this fundraiser is: Our Community. Our Impact. Our Legacy.
I will address this theme specifically in part three of my remarks.
Before I do so, however, in part one I will talk about The State of Higher Education today. In part two, I will discuss The Purpose of Higher Education. Then, in part three, I will concentrate on Northwest Suburban College – your business model and what you are doing to transform higher education in a fundamental way.
The State of Higher Education
Let’s get started. What is the state of higher education in the United States today?
Overall, I would say it’s mediocre. If you look up mediocre in the dictionary, it says “of only moderate quality.”
And, I think that unfortunately, this has been what has happened to the higher education industry overall in the past quarter of a century or so. Higher education has moved from being the driving force to being more of a restraining force for the nation and many of our students. (Pause)
If I were to assign a letter grade, I would give it a C-.
Am I being to tough a grader? I believe not.
Here are the reasons for my assessment: higher education costs far too much, students today have to carry too large a share of the costs of their education; it takes too long to graduate, higher education doesn’t always provide the skills needed to acquire or to perform successfully on the job, too many students start college and don’t complete it; the student debt burden for completers and non-completers is astronomical; and, finally that debt burden retards the growth of our economy.
Here are some facts and examples that support my analysis:
- Between 2001 and 2011, tuition costs at community colleges had gone up 40% and by a whopping 68% at four year colleges.
- In March 2013, the State Higher Education officers released a report disclosing that state and local appropriations had gone from a high of $8,670 in 2001 to just $5,896 in 2012. That’s a reduction of almost $3,000 or over 30%.
- Higher education funding grew by 1% and an estimated 3.7% in 2014. That’s the good news.
- Here’s the bad news. The student’s share of what they pay for education has grown by 30% as the states have cut back.
- For the first time ever, students are now paying half or more of their education costs.
Let me move from costs to graduation and skills development.
- The average time for a full-time student to graduate from a four-year institution is now six years.
- On average, about 40% of students who start full time at a two year college drop out.
- In terms of job placement, let me concentrate on the millennials. A study found that those who got a job right out of school in 2000 was 84 %. That dropped to 72% by 2012.
- In terms of skills development, let me concentrate on the teaching profession. In 2013 the National Council for Teacher Quality released a report that said – and I quote – “teacher preparation has become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity.”
Then, there is student debt. Consumer Reports cover story in August was about student debt. The story reported that 42 million students in the United States bear $1.3 trillion in debt. Yes, that is trillion with a T!
What a tragedy for these students and the American economy. Because of that debt and their payments on it, many of these college graduates can’t afford to buy a car – even a used one. A home – forget about it. Retirement – it’s an illusion. Given their economic circumstance, in 2014 32% of college graduates between the ages of 18 and 34 were living at home with their parents. This compares to only 20% in 1960.
I could go on and on. But, I won’t. You get the picture. And, it is a dismal one.
In concluding this first part of my remarks, I must say unequivocally, the higher education business model here in United States— is broken. That’s not just my opinion. In 2012, E. Gordon Gee, chairman of the National Commission on Educational Attainment said, “Public colleges and universities need to devise a new business model to pay the cost of education, beyond sticking students with higher tuition and greater debt.
The Commission was going to come up with a new business model and present it in a report. But, it didn’t. Instead, in 2013, it provided an open letter with three general recommendations and stated that there is “no one size fits all solution.”
The Purpose of Higher Education
I want to take issue with that as I move to the second part of my remarks: The Purpose of Higher Education.”
Let me begin exploring the purpose of higher education by describing higher education’s current business model. It is an “institutionally centered” model. The focus has been on increasing the size and salaries of the administration; reducing the classroom time of faculty so they can spend more time on research and publishing; and, increasing student fees to pay for things like new facilities, sports venues, etc.
That’s the essence of the institutionally-centered model that came in to vogue late in the 20th century. . What higher education needs to do in the 21st century is to convert to a “customer-centered” business model.
That model would put the student as the customer at the center of all decisions and to do things that add value for the student.
Higher education students come to school to learn. But, the vast majority of them are there not only to graduate but to get a job or promotion where they can earn an appropriate return for the investment of their educational dollars.
Viewing things from a student perspective as opposed to an institutional one, I would classify the purpose of higher education into three broad categories:
- Turning purpose.
- earning purpose
- learning purpose
The first institutions of higher education in the United States were ones that served either a turning purpose being established to prepare individuals for the ministry, or ones that served a learning purpose being established as sort of “intellectual finishing schools” for the landed gentry.
The move toward an earning purpose for higher education and education for the masses was prompted by passage of the Morrill Act in 1862. The Morrill Act established land grant universities which were to be focused on teaching agriculture, military tactics and engineering.
For a very long time after that, the academic perspective prevailed. Learning or knowledge for knowledge’s sake was front and center on the higher education agenda.
Now, given the explosive costs of higher education and diminishing public financial support, the issue becomes what should be the purpose of higher education? Or, more appropriately, should there be a single purpose?
In my opinion, the general purposes of higher education that we have discussed to this point – learning, earning and turning – are not mutually exclusive. An institution could emphasize only one purpose or embrace all three.
The essential requirements should be for the institution to align its curriculum to its purpose(s) and to communicate its mission clearly. This will enable a prospective student to make an informed decision on where to go to school based upon an institution’s espoused intent.
This is essential because students come in all shapes and sizes: Some are interested in learning. Some in earning. Some in turning. Some in all three forms. Others are uncertain.
The exercise of student choice acknowledges this. It brings into play a fourth category of purpose for higher education. That is fulfilling the educational “yearning” or desire of the student. The yearning purpose should be the key driver for the type of education that a student pursues and that an institution provides.
Northwest Suburban College
With that focus on the student and the yearning purpose of higher education I will turn my attention in part three of my remarks to Northwest Suburban College and the topics of community, impact, and legacy.
Northwest Suburban College does not have to change its business model because it was established with a customer or student-centered model. I would go one step further by saying that I would characterize the college as being in the “value” business.
Based upon the material that I have reviewed, I would say the college’s formula for success is to: deliver superior value, expand and enhance the value chain, and ensure the right values. I will discuss each of those in turn.
What is value? In the simplest of terms, value is quality divided by cost. Superior value is the highest quality at the lowest cost.
This college was set up by its founding president M.T. AliNiazee and the other founders to deliver superior value. Given the current state of higher education that I described in part one of my remarks, the promise of “fast track” education at a “fair price” that this college makes, is one that is of critical importance to both America’s students and our society in general.
It’s not just about making that promise. It’s about being able to keep it. That’s where the value chain concept comes in.
Harvard Professor Michael Porter introduced the value chain in his classic text 1985, Competitive Advantage. The value chain is a set of activities that an organization carries out to deliver value for its customers.
Value chains vary by industry. In higher education, the key primary activities in the value chain include: recruiting, curriculum development, teaching, counseling, and placement. The key support activities consist of the right processes, practices and people. These include: the institutional infrastructure, human resources, financial management, and technology management.
When each of these value chain components adds value, the institution produces superior value and the financial margin required to grow and to expand and enhance its portfolio. I must emphasize though that the pivotal element is people – having the right people in place – administration, faculty, and support staff- doing the right things. Yes, even in this era of automation, robotics and apps, people still make the difference.
The value, and the value chain, imprinting values – here at Northwest Suburban College, you recognize that you have a responsibility to ensure that your students have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the job – and also have the right attitude and disposition.
That is where values come in – both those of the students and its leaders. Northwestern Suburban College has a powerful set of core values grounded as stated in your vision on the “fundamental Islamic values of service, excellence and compassion.”
Over time, the alignment of value, the value chain and values combine to build community, impact, and a legacy. I will comment briefly on each of items as they relate to NWSC.
Community – A college community is comprised of its students, faculty, administration, alums, and families. It also requires a strong connection to the location in which it resides. That is why I was especially pleased to see “Collaborate with citizen groups in the community to enrich professional partnerships.” That community connection will help take the college to the next level.
Impact – It is amazing what NWSC has been able to do in less than a decade starting with only 2 students, to getting fully accredited and graduating more that 150 students a year with undergraduate degrees and certificates. I look at impact in higher education in terms of concentric circles. At the center is the student who learns the tools of the trade in school, then goes out gets a job, does it well, and delivers a product or service that impacts others.
The impact doesn’t stop there because your students are in the helping and healing professions. The impact benefits not only those who are cured but their families.
Since its establishment, NWSC has added new programs to its curriculum offerings that have enabled it to expand and enhance its impact. I know the plans are to eventually be able to provide a medical degree. That will be the capstone. But, your impact is already substantial.
That brings me to Legacy. I will share with you two of my favorite quotes related to legacy. One comes from Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of my alma mater, Aligarh Muslim University. The other comes from Harvard business school Professor Clayton Christensen.
Sir Syed wanted the graduates of Aligarh “to go forth across this great land to preach the gospel of free inquiry, of large hearted toleration and of pure morality.”
Professor Christensen in an article in the Harvard Business Review wrote, “I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.” Christensen follows that statement with the advice that he gives to his business school students at the end of every semester. It is “Don’t worry about the individual prominence that you’ve achieved, worry about the individuals you have helped become better people.”
Sir Syed was a Muslim. Professor Christensen is a Mormon. They are sending essentially the same message.
That is the message that NWSC is sending and the business that college is in. (PAUSE AND SLOWER) it is in the business of touching the lives of students so they can touch the lives of others. That is, and will be, its legacy.
In closing, I recognize that this is a fundraising event. So, let me say why I think it is important – let me say critical – to support NWSC. That is because, as I said early in my speech, Northwest Suburban College is implementing a business model that will transform higher education in a fundamental way.
Consider NWSC’s mission statement: to provide high, accelerated, and affordable education in small classroom settings, thereby promoting individual growth and achievement. Compare and contrast that mission to those of traditional higher education institutions.
There is a significant difference. Higher education is at a pivot point. I define pivot point as “an area that must be leveraged and addressed effectively in order to achieve positive outcomes.”
Northwest Suburban College is working that pivot point. It is transforming higher education.
Its customer or student-centered business model is the right one for the 21st century. As we move forward, more and more institutions will move toward that model. Those that do not – will not survive.
Northwest Suburban College is there already. They have a proven track record and more track to build.
All of us can make a difference and all of you should make a difference. Let us deepen and strengthen our partnership with Northwest Suburban College. Let us never forget the values that our community shares: the belief that with education and hard work, and with sacrifice, we can give our children a better life. Let us dedicate ourselves to draw upon the values and spirit that have always defined the greatness of our community.
They deserve your support and admiration. They have mine. Let us extend our hand, our hope, our help, to Northwestern College and double down our commitment. Remember —— when they succeed, all of us succeed
Thanks for listening to me. I appreciate your attentiveness and your commitment to NWSC.
I wish you all the best
God bless you all