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3 Key Takeaways from the California Innovation Leadership Forum

By February 8, 2018

Whether you're looking to be inspired about the future of Higher Education, how the 4th industrial revolution impacts the industry, technology innovations within institutions or the workforce of the future, check out learnings from this past California Innovation Leadership Forum – and learn more about what's next.

50 University Presidents, Provosts and Leaders from over 30 Universities attended our inaugural Innovation Leadership Forum at Salesforce in San Francisco.

Interested in what university leaders have to say about the future of higher education? Here are the highlights. More good news: there is still time to register for the Higher Ed Summit in March to join universities around the globe to hear amazing stories from thought leaders and industry experts on how to tackle the biggest challenges facing higher education today.

Co-hosted by Father Paul Fitzgerald (President, University of San Francisco) and Dr. Leslie Wong (President, San Francisco State University), the Innovation Leadership Forum was an informative half-day discussion centered around trending topics in Higher Education.

Here are the 3 main take-aways from the event:

1. Now is the Time for Higher Ed to Transform

The aim of higher education is to prepare students to improve their career and life outcomes. However, the jobs of today will not be the jobs of tomorrow.

Changes in the economy, technology, and society have spurred major paradigm shifts in labor markets in the US and around the world.

Future projections of job displacement due to automation are already calling for a newly skilled workforce. Societal pressures, higher expectations from stakeholders (all genders and races), and increased government scrutiny over the value of higher education have created a unique environment and opportunity for colleges and universities to reinvent curriculum and educational models to meet the challenges of a new world of work and put all students, despite gender, race or economic status on the path for success.

Students, on the other hand, are embracing technology faster than any other demographic. Educational institutions are doing their best to keep up with this new rapid pace of change that we at Salesforce call the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The implications are two-fold:

    1. Students are expecting a whole new campus experience.
    2. Higher ed institutions run the risk of leaving their students behind if they do not catch up.
    This could lead to increased dropout rates, higher mobility between institutions, longer periods of matriculation, and potential long term sustainability risks for the institution itself.

Rob Acker, CEO of, noted that “One of our issues is the gap in high school preparation that a lot of our students receive. Our curriculum needs to be designed for our students to own their own mind, especially in the freshman and sophomore years.”

2. Create a Platform for Students to Get More Engaged

Rob also shared, “Students today are different because the way they want to be taught. They are accessing information in all new ways, and want to be lifelong learners.” Student success matters – not just in the classroom, but in creating an engaging student experience at every touch point with the university.

“You have to start with the student who is in the center, not the school or faculty, in higher ed,” as Dr. Mark Lombardi, President of Maryville University, said.

This is particularly important with 21st-century students, who do not fit the traditional profile:

  • 51% are low to moderate income
  • 44% are age 24 or over
  • 30% attend part time
  • 26% work full time while enrolled
  • 18% are non-native English speakers
  • 10% are immigrants

To win and retain students, Higher Education leaders will need to change how their institutions interact and engage with their students throughout their entire life cycle — not only in adopting new technologies, but also in changing the cultures of their institutions overall. While employers are moving fast and their needs are changing, universities are still dealing with a 4 year system that is not as nimble as it needs to be to meet those demands. There needs to be less of a focus on earning Master’s and PhD degrees and more on life-long learning as a skill to allow students to adapt.

3. Collaborate to Reduce Data Silos in Higher Education

Education at large is a unique industry in that everyone cares about the success of students. There is room for more collaboration here to work towards common goals like recruiting and retaining students from diverse backgrounds, preparing students for careers, and engaging alumni through fundraising and more.

Highly coordinated advising (if not centralized advising), getting students in meta-majors early and using a platform to aggregate and use student data are the three things higher education needs to do to be successful. At Salesforce, we call this being a Connected Campus.

Speaking of collaboration, our annual Higher Ed Summit is coming up in March. It’s an amazing opportunity to connect with your peers, learn, and get inspired.

Register for Higher Ed Summit