Magazine article University Business

Help Is Just a Phone Call Away: The Learning Alliance Offers Just-in-Time Expertise to IHE Decisionmakers with Tough Decisions to Make

Magazine article University Business

Help Is Just a Phone Call Away: The Learning Alliance Offers Just-in-Time Expertise to IHE Decisionmakers with Tough Decisions to Make

Article excerpt

There are tough times ahead for higher education says Robert Zemsky, and universities face challenges they've never before confronted. Zemsky, chair of The (newly formed) Learning Alliance (, is particularly concerned that colleges and universities are becoming mere businesses, and that they are "losing their claim on public purpose."

A collaboration of 11 higher ed research and consulting organizations, The Learning Alliance is committed to helping IHEs succeed as places of public purpose by providing access to knowledge and expertise far beyond that which any single organization can offer. And it's all done by phone (610-399-6601). In development since spring, The Learning Alliance is a sounding board for college and university planning, and a way for top institutional execs and administrators to test worst-case scenarios--even as an institution moves full-speed ahead.

While we here at University Business are not in the habit of using editorial to promote new products or services, this is a new model of service with such a high level of purpose and such potential for far-reaching impact on the higher ed business community as a whole, that we feel justified in offering you, our reader, detailed information. Will The Learning Alliance fulfill its lofty goals? We recently spoke with Zemsky about the program, its format, and its intentions.

UB: What is The Learning Alliance?

Zemsky: The world has become increasingly complex and we realty need to pool expertise. The Learning Alliance draws together a Lot of separate expertise into a readily distributable format so that an institution doesn't have to spend half its time trying to figure out who the right person is to talk to. Many of the right people are "bundled" in The Learning Alliance, and the whole setup is designed to get the institution in touch with the right person expeditiously.

Why now?

A tipping point is at hand where market forces are turning institutions into market enterprises, and the institutions aren't thinking very much about the consequences. When they do think about the situation, they bemoan the fact that they are being "commodified." But that will happen no matter what, so the question is, How can you be both market-smart and mission-centered? If institutions don't develop a strategy to address that now, the question will be irrelevant.

You've written a lot about public purpose; is there public purpose to The Learning Alliance?

Yes, and it's simply this: If the Alliance helps you think through your market issues, you'll have a Lot more time to spend on public purpose and you'll have more time to think about what kind of contribution you make. Most of the entities that form The Learning Alliance are agencies of public purpose [see box, "Anatomy of the Alliance," next page]. Our sense of the institutions out there is that they are scrambling on a day-to-day basis and no one is taking much time to step back and think. So, the public purpose to The Learning Alliance is to buffer these institutional leaders from the daily grind so that they can have time to think about what is going on in their larger world.

But isn't The Learning Alliance just a telephone conversation?

In one sense, that's exactly what it is. But we're providing strategic expertise over the phone, with rapid response time and low transaction cost. There hasn't been that kind of rapid information supply to higher education before. Most administrators think, "If I'm going to talk to a consultant, I have to bring the consultant on campus and everyone else has to get braced because there's no telling what kind of damage this consultant will do, even though we're paying the consultant to do good."

But institutions don't have to brace themselves before they call us; the threat level is much Lower. What we do is very unobtrusive. You know the old saw that a consultant is someone who Looks at your watch to tell you what time it is? …

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