Foreign Policy says you ought to eschew the US, send your kids overseas to college

An interesting story in Foreign Policy re: US colleges, cost and competitiveness:

Want to combine a quality education with language immersion? Peking University — No. 49 on the Times criteria, above Penn State — charges between $4,000 and $6,000 in tuition a year. For those wanting to brush up their Spanish, the Catholic University of Chile ranks considerably above Wake Forest, but the fees are 80 percent lower.

But junior won’t just learn language there. The even-better news is that many developing country universities score better on the teaching environment than they do on overall rankings. For example, the Times scores suggests that Peking University’s ranking on teaching is better than all but 15 of the 49 universities above it on the list. That may be why a growing number of foreign students are flocking to universities in middle income countries. In 2009, three developing economies — Russia, China, and South Africa — attracted nearly 250,000 overseas students between them, according to the OECD.

It’s an interesting thought and surely not for everyone. I think the big question for many would be whether or not doing so would hurt their ability to compete in the U.S. when they returned, though you’d have to think it’d say something to a potential employer that a kid had moxie enough to go to undergraduate (and beyond?) overseas. Will cost lower tuition? Will we see droves of U.S. kids going overseas to study in the future? It’d be good to see, but I doubt it on both counts.

Reflecting on bigger, faster, newer in .edu web strategy

Early in my career as a web manager, projects just came to me. I’ve basically established a career going places that other don’t know exist and trying to get them to rethink how they view the web, to strategize their web presence and to better integrate the web into institutional marketing.

After spending a few years consulting, now I’m back within the trenches of institutional viewpoints. While it feels good, there are things about it that I forgot. Most notably, the fact that you can’t institute widespread change overnight and even when you can, it’s not always advisible.

When you’re on a bit of a professional island, with no one institutionally who is tasked with the same role as you it can be lonely. But what’s worse than the feeling of being Tom Hanks and talking to a volleyball is the idea that you often have a lot of weight to your words. People look to you to be the zen master of all things web. While this could be nice for one’s ego if you’re into that, it’s the sort of position that I’m glad I’m equipped to handle after six years of doing this rather than when I first began because I feel far more equipped to deal with such things today.

So what’s to think about? Lots of stuff, really. How do you help an institution visualize itself different. I’ll say that it’s first and foremost not solely about “the web” but akin to looking at yourself in the mirror and trying to honestly assess what your suitors are seeing. That might be a weird way of thinking about it, but they’re very similar. There’s a widespread penchant no matter the size of the college or university to believe almost wistfully in what you’re doing and to imagine no matter how things might be perceived that your way is indeed the best way. Usually, we rely on outsiders — consultants — to tell us those hard truths. But when the hard work needs to be done, unless you have big-time dollars, all of the advice in the world won’t mean a thing. You’ll need to tie your laces and dig deep into your own institutional muck to determine where you are, what needs to be changed and how you’re going to do it.

As I reflect on my own glacial shifts in perspective over the years, I realize there is a time and a place for ambitious agendas. For one, I’ve found that it’s easy to propose bold ideas. Realism sets in and then you have to figure out to decipher coherence out of boldness. Once that’s happened, I find it’s truly about execution. If you can sell a plan to the moon and actually get there, that’s awesome. But without the full weight of a nation behind you, some luck and good timing…you’re not going anywhere. The parallels between a bygone era in our own country and now make this all the more relevant.

A lot of the conversations going on right now — and there are lots of them — in the field of higher ed strategy are about bigger, faster, bolder, better. These are important discussions and findings that need to occur if we’re going to continue to raise the bar. What I need to remind myself often is not to be distracted by these happenings while contemplating the realities of my own sites. Not every institution is positioned to do more now for a bevy of financial, personnel and strategic reasons. It doesn’t make our triumphs or struggles less relevant, it’s just an important reality to face.

I’m fond of warily approaching social media properties, because I realize that not every school really has the infrastructure to support some 3rd party tool. But give how copycat the highered industry can be at times, it’s hard to resist creating official messaging in unofficial places to counter what others might do.

“Those connections on your computer aren’t real…” and other falsehoods

I may or may not have heard a speaker recently cite the rampant use of digital devices by millennials. In this discussion, said speaker might have referenced Facebook and other tools by saying, “I have a hard time convincing kids that those people on those sites aren’t real. Even if they’re your friends or whoever else. Those connections aren’t real. You can’t make real connections that way.” This marred an otherwise spirited discussion (that again, may or may not have happened) that was not about social media at all.

I suppose this is a common mistake people make. It doesn’t take a Luddite to believe that social media is all about little e-people who don’t have real narratives, tell real stories and communicate real thoughts. Does it mean people don’t get confused in texts sometime? Sure. But how many times have you misunderstood something a person told you in real time? For me, that happens pretty often even if it’s someone I speak with and see very often or consider very close to me.

If you subscribe to this blog, you’re already a kind of true believer and I don’t need to convince you. I write this instead to illustrate the kind of thinking g that’s still pervasive amongst Boomers and other anecdotal culture experts who see first-hand what happens in the social media purview of their own world and want to extrapolate messages from that. Make no mistake, I recognize there are inherent problems with digital addiction and our first-world societal over-reliance on technology to do things we used to do manually.

But let’s trivialize real, meaningful connections that happen online as silly simply because we don’t understand it. And if you hear someone else being dismissive, speak up. We might know better, but I learn everyday that lots of other people are far behind the awareness of the things happening each and every day.

How social media militancy confuses people

So I deleted my Facebook profile the other day. Or I should say, deactivated. It was a personal thing. I can’t recall the last time I did that, but it was cathartic. Until about a week into my most recent hiatus, I realized that it was causing confusion for people who use it as a vehicle to contact me.

My more militant side says “I’m extremely easy to find. Among my friends, I’m surely one of the few that heavily relies on his personal domain as a vehicle for contact. It’s not as if you can’t get in touch with me. How much easier can it get than ron at ronbronson.com? But this isn’t how ordinary people work. You were once on Facebook. Now you aren’t there anymore. This makes them confused.

Luckily, my friends know I do this. So they’re not all that surprised by it. Still, my increased network is comprised of people I’ve met over the years who will drop me occasional notes. Some will ask for a reference or want to say hello and don’t really know where to go to find me. One person took to Twitter to seek me out. I thought it was bold and useful, but it made me realize that I needed to rethink my stance on social media militancy.

Why militancy? Well, I’m not sure. If you live and breathe the social world, it can become ubiquitous with your normal life. For my peers who live in real cities with real people, it’s a lot easier.  But when your real world is distant from your everyday life, I find myself sometimes over-relying on technology to give me what my environs can’t. Like most things, there are tradeoffs and I sometimes need to bow out.

So I deactivated Facebook, deleted my Klout profile completely and detached from Google Plus. Maybe it makes me a bad web guy that I can often be an anti-social media Luddite. Except that’s not my position. I just have a pointed belief that not every network needs to be for everyone. And just because a school decided a platform works for them doesn’t mean we need to join every Tom, Dick and Harry network that evolves simply to have “a presence.”

This extends to my personal presence as well. Especially in a world where I’m still struggling with curating my own personal web presence, I don’t feel entirely comfortable farming out my identity to a third party. So this is part of the source of my consternation. In fact, it’s probably not militancy at all. It’s a personal choice borne out of realities in my own world.

While this is how I see it, I hadn’t really considered what other people who do. I never viewed detaching from Facebook as akin to throwing my cell phone in the lake. But that’s what it’s like for so many connections.

Alas, I rejoined and the messages followed. Lesson learned? I’m not so sure, but for now…I think I have a better understand of Facebook’s role in my personal world. Now that’s a lesson learned.

Of Dragons and Fireballs

So I’m back from home. It seems fitting in a way that I left 2011 one way and 2012 begins and it’s feels different. Going back east always enables me to reconnect to a former self that I often forget exists. Years of moving places, meeting new people and so forth leave me constantly reinventing myself. While this offers me new opportunities, it leaves me wondering what I’ve left behind.

More than anything, going home always makes me remember who I’ve become and more comfortable in that. My uncle always reminds me when I see him, “when you were a kid, you always said you were gonna move far far away and you did.” Then he laughs. I think back to that loquacious little guy and I wonder what we have in common now. 

Our hopes and our dreams. He saw the globe and believed the world was smaller than it was at a time when it really wasn’t. Now it is, but I look around and wonder where I fit into this whole mess of things.

Driving back I thought about video games. I don’t really play them. But life can sometimes be like them. If you think back to the original Super Mario Brothers, there are levels and each has a boss at the end. You beat the boss and advance to the next level. At the end, there’s a big boss and you win if you beat said creature. Older games didn’t allow you to waste time deviating on your own little tasks. I watch my brother or friends play current games and it’s possible to be part of the ecosystem while specializing in a particular kind of gameplay. (Guys who only sniper in Call of Duty)

In real life, there’s the path you’re on and where you’re headed. Then there’s all of these extraneous things on the outskirts. I told my dad that when I was younger, I saw possibilities and opportunities and always wanted to take them. Not because all of them were necessarily fit for me; but simply because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. When you traffic in the mysteries of what’s possible, you want an escape hatch or a scratch-off ticket that gives you what you want faster than just hunkering down. 

When you’re younger, life seems full of mystery. When you get older, it feels very different. People still impose their will, they still communicate their expectations and want you to ascribe to the absolutes that govern how they live their lives. I’ve always been estranged from these ideas because they simply defy how I see the world and live my life. But I’ve been fighting upstream for years trying to get where I want to do in the face of all of it.

Right now, it’s about building a foundation from which the other stuff can live on. It was interesting when someone said as much without me having to express it. “You’ve got these goals and you’re working towards them. You’re building the future you want for yourself and I’ve got nothing but respect for you for that.”

I try to be ethically consistent. I don’t necessarily know my ultimate destination, but I know what I don’t want now in a way that I never used to and have become a lot better at avoiding it.

So another year of chasing down dragons and dodging fireballs.