ELEVATE program: Achievement Strategies from Illinois Tech:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 166 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Raj Echambadi

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Changing Higher Ed Podcast 166 ELEVATE program: Achievement Strategies from Illinois Tech
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

2 August · Episode 166

ELEVATE program: Achievement Strategies from Illinois Tech

42 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Higher ed leaders who want to increase inclusion while maintaining affordability can emulate the actions of  Illinois Tech's ELEVATE program.

Higher education leaders who want to increase inclusion while maintaining affordability at their campus can emulate the actions of  Illinois Institute of Technology’s ELEVATE program. By following three core principles, Illinois Tech has ranked first in the state for people it has successfully moved from the bottom 20th percentile of household income to the upper 20th percentile.


Illinois Tech is also one of just 28 institutions named an American Talent Initiative ‘High-Flier’ by the Aspen Talent Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies for ensuring college access and success. Moreover, Illinois Tech’s employment rate is 92% six months after graduation, even when 37% of its students receive Pell Grants.


In this episode, Dr. Drumm McNaughton speaks with President Raj Echambadi of the Illinois Institute of Technology about the four principles that have allowed Illinois Tech to experience so much success. They include boosting inclusion through experiential learning opportunities, providing more pathways for students, and embracing digital education.



Podcast Highlights



  • Illinois Tech pairs technology education with human-centered education by mandating experiential learning opportunities. These include not only students learning from faculty but also students learning from each other and faculty learning from students.


  • Because of how the public perceives higher ed, institutions must provide different pathways for students to receive an education. This involves no longer thinking of students as a monolith that can benefit from a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, institutions must think about individual student groups and look at their different needs and motivations to develop more effective value propositions.


  • For example, after learning that students were concerned about affordability, Illinois Tech partnered with the local community college system, the City Colleges of Chicago, to create an innovative program. Students can now spend their first year at City Colleges to take post-secondary courses at community college prices while living on the Illinois Tech campus. They can also join student organizations and participate in activities at Illinois Tech. This not only addresses affordability but boosts a sense of belonging for students.


  • For its student-centered approach, Illinois Tech has been asked to join REP4 Rapid Education Prototyping, which is an alliance of like-minded institutions that devise strategies by learners for learners. It is a bottom-up orientation, where the learners design and dictate the learning strategy. At the same time, it becomes the job of educational leaders to make sure that those strategies get implemented so their learners remain empowered.


  • Illinois Tech embraces a hybrid model due to student demand and to increase accessibility for those who work full-time jobs, for example. Before joining Illinois Tech, Raj developed and launched the first scaled online MBA program in partnership with Coursera at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. That program happens to be the largest online program in the world. Ten percent of all online MBAs in the United States come from the university.




About Our Podcast Guest


Raj Echambadi became the 10th president of Illinois Institute of Technology in August 2021. Echambadi’s vision for Illinois Tech is centered on a new path to preeminence driven by four principles: first, honoring and strengthening the university’s role as an engine of opportunity and national leader in economic mobility; second, pursuing growth through reimagining education to serve learners anywhere at all stages of life; third, fueling future innovation by empowering students to become human-centered technologists; and fourth, exemplifying purpose-driven citizenship in service of Bronzeville, Chicago, and the world.


To that end, he is working with university leaders to build new curricular and extracurricular programs to make quality, career-relevant technology education fully accessible to any learner anywhere in the world. The centerpiece of Echambadi’s strategy is the launch of the one-of-a-kind ELEVATE program that emphasizes job readiness, guarantees experiential learning opportunities, and receives personalized academic and career mentorship. 


By developing programs highlighting Echambadi’s guiding principles, Illinois Tech welcomed its largest class of first-year undergraduate students in its history in fall 2022, and also saw a 35 percent increase in new graduate students in spring 2023. Illinois Tech has also partnered with the global online learning platform Coursera to offer fully online, industry-aligned programs beginning in fall 2023. For its role as a leader in college access and career success for lower-income students, Bloomberg Philanthropies recognized Illinois Tech in 2023 as one of 28 American Talent Initiative (ATI) High-Flier institutions.


Previously, Echambadi served as the dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. Before joining Northeastern, Echambadi served in various roles, including as senior associate dean of strategic innovation, at Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a driving force behind a scaled online M.B.A. (iMBA) program that was lauded as one of the best disruptive educational innovations in the past decade.


About the Host


Dr. Drumm McNaughton, the host of Changing Higher Ed® podcast, is a consultant to higher ed institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.



Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 165 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Raj Echambadi


Welcome to Changing Higher Ed, a podcast dedicated to helping higher education leaders improve their institutions, with your host, Dr. Drumm McNaughton, CEO of the Change Leader, a consultancy that helps higher ed leaders holistically transform their institutions. Learn more at changinghighered.com. And now, here’s your host, Drumm McNaughton.


Drumm McNaughton  00:31

Thank you, David.


Our guest today is Dr. Raj Echambadi, president of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Prior to Illinois Tech, Raj served as dean of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University, and before that, he was senior associate dean for strategic innovation at Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. There, he was a driving force behind the scaled online MBA program that was lauded as one of the best disruptive educational innovations in the past decade.


Raj’s vision for Illinois Tech is centered on four principles. One, honoring and strengthening the university’s role as an engine of opportunity and a national leader in economic mobility. Two, pursuing growth through reimagining education to serve learners anywhere at all stages of life. Three, fueling future innovation by empowering students to become human-centered technologists. And four, exemplifying purpose-driven citizenship in the service of Brownsville, Chicago, and the world.


Raj joins us today to talk about how Illinois Tech is fast becoming an innovation center through these principles, all of which lead to inclusion and affordability. Raj, welcome to the show.


Raj Echambadi  01:56

Thank you, Drumm, for this opportunity. I’ve heard a lot about your podcast, so I’m excited to be here.


Drumm McNaughton  02:03

Well, thank you. I’m excited to have you here. You have such an interesting background. It’s atypical for most university presidents. Before we get into our topic today about reimagining universities for the future, give our listeners a little taste of who you are and where you’ve come from.


Raj Echambadi  02:24

This is a true story, Drumm. I grew up in India as a mechanical engineer by profession. I was working for the tractor company Massey Ferguson in India as a service engineer. When I was with their management development center, at the end of the training session, one of my faculty instructors told me that I would make a good academic and that I should pursue my higher education in the United States. Unfortunately, he passed away soon thereafter, so I never had an opportunity to ask him if it was a compliment. But here I am 30 years later.


I came here and got my Ph.D. at the University of Houston. I’ve had a long academic career since then. I traversed Central Florida. I was at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and then went to Northeastern University in Boston. Here I am now at the Illinois Institute of Technology.


There are two very important things that I want to talk about, Drumm. One, my entire experience has shown me the power of higher education. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself and remind myself that I’m talking to people like you. But I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for higher education.


Two, higher education was affordable and accessible to me. They always say that I studied on the backs of the taxpayers of India and then studied on the taxpayers of Texas. But here I am so deeply committed to harnessing the potential of higher education and, more importantly, ensuring that there is accessibility and affordability so that people can benefit from higher education.


Drumm McNaughton  04:12

Well, you’re a poster child for having done that yourself. But beyond that, you have taken what you were given and given back to others in significant ways, which is one of the things that is really important about higher education: the public good aspect of it.


Raj Echambadi  04:33

That is exactly right. I always say to people, if it weren’t for higher education, we wouldn’t have the Albert Einsteins and the Martin Luther Kings of the world, if you will. So, higher educational institutions do a phenomenal job of ensuring that talent doesn’t get lost. To me, that is a very important part of who I am. And just as importantly, I want Illinois Tech to be the beacon of inclusive excellence because that is extraordinarily important for a thriving democracy.


Drumm McNaughton  05:09

You’re absolutely right about that. Illinois Tech is a great example of affordability and access.


Raj Echambadi  05:21

Yes. We were founded in 1890 on a very noble and resolute mission: to educate students from all walks of life. We call our story the “Million Dollar Sermon.” Our first president, Frank Wakely Gunsaulus, was a minister and was deeply distressed by the lack of educational options for the children of the meatpackers, steel workers, and machinists in the Southside of Chicago. In 1890, he went up to his congregation and said, “If only I had a million dollars! I would educate the students so that they could become engineers, architects, physicists, or part of the industrial society.” Thank God, Drumm. There was somebody in the audience with a million dollars. Philip Danforth Armour, Sr., of Armour & Company, went to Minister Gunsaulus and said, “Here is a million dollars. Go ahead and fulfill that passion of yours.” And the Armour Institute of Technology was born.


For over 130 years, Drumm, we have fulfilled our promise. I’m going to give you a couple of proof points. We are number one in the state of Illinois in terms of moving people from the bottom 20th percentile to the top 20th percentile in terms of household income. We were also honored recently by the Aspen Talent Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies. They called Illinois Tech an American Talent Initiative ‘High-Flier’, only one of 88 institutions in the country to be named so for our work with ensuring college access and success. Our employment rate is about 92% at six months after graduation.


When you look at our student demographics, Drumm, a third of our students are Pell students. Thirty seven percent of our students come from the lower-income categories, if you will. When you compare that to our peer institutions, that number is about 19%. So that tells you our number is almost twice as much as that in the bottom four income categories. Our employment rate is very high, which is why we received this designation. We are very honored to have gotten that designation, which honors the work of our illustrious faculty and staff.


In case people ask you how we were able to take people from the lowest socio-economic categories and present them with these opportunities, it’s because of our value offerings. We are a technology-based school predominantly focused on engineering and computer science. We also have the first design school in the country. There’s also a preeminent architecture school, law school, business school, and the School of the Sciences. As you can see, our education is very relevance-inspired, which enables students to get gainful employment and become people who matter once they are educated. So that’s our story. I found it inspirational, which is the reason why I joined Illinois Tech.


Drumm McNaughton  08:49

It certainly is inspirational. And thank you, Mr. Armour, for starting this so many years ago. You’re making a difference at Illinois Tech by moving people from the lower class to the middle class. I don’t like to label things, but he helped them realize “The American Dream.”


This is really important, especially when dealing with folks who may not have the same academic background. We need to touch on some of the scaffolding that you put in place for that. But when we talked before, you mentioned three key points: inclusion, different pathways, and digital education. Let’s talk about those with the framework that education is about individual empowerment.


Raj Echambadi  09:48

Correct. So, I’ll start by saying that I deeply, deeply believe in inclusive excellence. One of the inspiring things about Illinois since its founding in 1890 is that we have always measured ourselves by how many people we include rather than how many people we exclude. That has been a core value of ours. Whenever I go to events, people ask me, “What is the greatest challenge facing civilization?” People have different answers, right? People mention climate change, fraying democratic values, lack of civic engagement, poverty, etc. But, to me, the fundamental foundational problem facing human civilization happens to be wasted human opportunity.


Drumm McNaughton 

I would agree.


Raj Echambadi  

If we generate enough educational opportunities for all, all these problems will be resolved. Fundamentally, when we think about inclusion, we think only in terms of individual empowerment, and rightfully so. As I said, we have a 92% employment rate of our students at graduation. But higher education also does certain things in terms of fostering collaborative thinking and teaching them values so that they can become good community citizens and societal members or prototyping democracy if you will, which is extraordinarily important.


We have embarked on what I call “human-centered technological education.” When we last spoke, I told you about my world-class technological education in India. I took eight math, four physics, eight chemistry, and thermodynamic and fluid mechanics courses. But there was no civics, history, geography, or any form of a liberal arts education.


I’m only speaking for myself right now, but when I came to the United States and sat in these classrooms with these amazingly well-rounded students. That was when it struck me – that technological education by itself isn’t that great. You need to couple that with human-centered education so that people are not only individually empowered to fulfill their potential from a professional point of view, but they become good citizens, which is what we are focused on.


Drumm McNaughton  12:31

This makes so much sense. I can relate this back to my own education. I did my undergraduate degree at the Naval Academy. The Naval Academy, by legal statute, requires 80% of the graduates to be technical majors in STEM and 20% to get a liberal arts education. I was a physics major. Not that I was all that smart. I just learned how to plug and chug really well. Find the formula that works and plug in the numbers, and there you go. We were required to take a lot of liberal arts courses. I remember taking English courses, not only during freshman year as part of the general education requirements, but as electives later on. If you want to give people the ability to step into leadership positions at some part of their career, they have to have a broad education because it’s all about people. It’s about being able to relate to and lead people, etc.


Raj Echambadi  13:56

That is exactly right, Drumm. By the way, I want to thank you for your service.


Part of our learning involved talking to a variety of schools, including military academies and so on, because one of the things we were fascinated by when we started developing this was how to develop leaders among young people, which is fairly critical. So, our identity is what we call ELEVATE. Elevate Your Future. We tell students that content is fantastic, but we want to develop engineers with EQ. So, we mandate experiential learning opportunities for these students. When we pair the rigorous classroom education they are getting with experiential learning, post-graduation outcomes are all but guaranteed. That is how we are approaching this issue of pairing human-centered education with technology education to achieve a whole host of outcomes at various levels.


Drumm McNaughton  15:03

That’s so critical. As part of the inclusion perspective, it’s not only about bringing in a lot of people but the socialization of working with older and younger people of different nationalities, races, and socio-economic backgrounds.


Raj Echambadi  15:24

That is exactly right. I always remind our young students that they’re going to learn from the faculty member, the sage on the stage who will also serve as your guide on the side. They are going to facilitate learning amongst you. You are going to learn from your peers. So keep your ears open, if you will, because your peers will teach you just as much as the faculty member in the center of the classroom. Our learning comes in all shapes and sizes, and how do you harness that learning into some things that matter to you?


Drumm McNaughton  16:05

I’m putting my accreditation hat on at this point. It’s important to have cross-learning but also to have your faculty members learning from students.


Raj Echambadi  16:15

That is exactly correct. At the end of the day, it’s a learning culture that you need to develop. Once you have that learning culture of students learning from faculty, students learning from each other, and the faculty learning from students, that’s when you experience incredible outcomes.


Drumm McNaughton  16:36

You just touched on one of my favorite authors, Peter Senge, and his book The Fifth Discipline. So, of the three points, we covered inclusion very well. As far as providing different pathways to college degrees, there’s a lot being done out there. Not everyone looks the same, and nobody goes to the same type of schools, etc. One example is the University of Cambridge’s Lucy Cavendish College. It used to be that only 30% of their enrollment came from public schools. They’ve changed that. They’re admitting 90%. So with that, they’ve changed their enrollment processes, who they look for, etc. The bottom line is that there are multiple paths to enrollment and a college degree.


Raj Echambadi  17:33

Yes. To me, this is a very important point, Drumm. As higher educational institutions, especially four-year colleges, we are trained to recruit 17- and 18-year-old students. Now there are various forces that are affecting higher education. You have the student debt and affordability crisis. The trust in higher education has fallen to an all-time low. Fifty-four percent of parents and families do not trust that higher education will offer value in the long run.


Because of all these kinds of things, what I think is fairly critical for universities to think about is to dismantle this pipeline model. Think of students as coming in from different pathways. Don’t think of this student group as a monolith with a one-size-fits-all solution. Start thinking about an individual student group and look at their needs and motivations, and develop your value propositions as higher educational institutions to cater to these groups. That is what I call a pipeline to a platform module. Dismantle the pipeline. Create a platform model. Then, provide opportunities for students to plug into your platform at points that are convenient to them.


Instead of being abstract, I want to give you one example of what we do. We are a private school, but I always say we are a private school with a public school admission. We do have a four-year undergraduate program. And while we provide scholarships and other types of opportunities to everyone who wants to attend our school, we found that some students were concerned about affordability. So, we partnered with the local community college system, the City Colleges of Chicago. The chancellor is a very innovative leader.


We worked out a plan where admitted students can spend their first year at City Colleges to take courses at community college prices but live with us on our campus. They can get plugged into our student organizations and participate in all the Illinois Tech activities that help you feel like you belong. That way, they can get the best of both worlds, if you will. These are the kinds of innovative opportunities that are out there for higher education leaders. They just need to take off the pipeline model and embrace a broader holistic platform.


Drumm McNaughton  20:38

I assume you have articulation agreements with the community college.


Raj Echambadi  



This makes so much sense. Community colleges are geared toward fulfilling general education requirements that you have to take first and second years anyway. There’s the lower cost. And if you’re providing them services at Illinois Tech, this is really innovative.


Raj Echambadi  21:01

We do have articulation agreements. Articulation typically is at the end of two years. Then the students come in during their junior year. You hit upon an extraordinarily important point when mentioning socialization. These students would have originally gone to a four-year institution. We are just melding the affordability of what a community college can provide while providing them with an opportunity for them to belong earlier. Hence, their educational career is much more enriching. That’s what this program is.


Drumm McNaughton  21:38

This makes so much sense. Belonging is such a critical factor for young black males and really for any “different race.” There’s the question of, “Do I belong here?” There’s the lower socio-economic status. Many students are first-generation students, so they never dreamed it was even possible. So instilling that sense of belonging is critical. This is really, really innovative. Raj. This is fabulous.


Raj Echambadi  22:28

Thank you. If I may add one more thing. Someone once asked me, “What is the difference between an explorer and somebody who’s lost?” And I said, “I don’t know.” And the person said, “It is in the mindset.” That goes back to the profoundly important point you just made, Drumm. It is all about belonging. There are ways by which universities can foster belonging. But our own story at Illinois Tech of having 1/3 Pell students and employment outcomes of up to 92% tell you it is all possible.


When people talk about academic backgrounds and perspectives, I tell them all that can be taught. Apart from teaching the content, you also have to teach a mindset. The mindset is fundamentally that they belong. For that, the institution has to work very hard to make them feel like they belong. There are things that you need to do as a higher education institution to ensure people don’t feel distant or that it’s not a part of who they are. At the end of the day, if you foster that culture of belonging, great things can happen.


Drumm McNaughton  23:43

Oh, absolutely. It’s not only you believing in yourself, but others believing that you believe in them. The belief in oneself frequently comes first from someone saying, “I know you can do this.”


Raj Echambadi  24:01

Yes, that’s exactly right.


Drumm McNaughton  24:05

Just to clarify, when you’re talking about a platform model and not being a pipeline, you’re not necessarily talking about an enrollment pipeline. You’re talking about something different.


Raj Echambadi  24:20

Correct. To me, it is fundamentally about understanding the needs and motivations of our individual students and then ensuring that we provide the right programs and probably new pathways to accommodate a broader segment if you will. So that’s what we mean by going from a pipeline to a platform module.


Drumm McNaughton  24:47

And we’re going to get there before the end of the podcast. This sounds like something that would come from REP4 – Rapid Education Prototyping with Philomena Mantella.


Raj Echambadi  24:59

Yes, we have been invited to join the REP4 Alliance. President Philomena Mantella of Grand Valley State University and I met at Northeastern University. I’ve said this to you privately, Drumm, that she’s probably the most innovative university president in the country. The REP4 Rapid Education Prototyping is an alliance she constructed of like-minded institutions.


One of the most amazing things about REP4 is that it’s about devising strategies by learners for learners. All of us mean well in higher ed, but usually, when we start devising strategies for learners from the top, they don’t work. The beauty of her model is that it is fundamentally organic. It is a bottom-up orientation, where the learners design and dictate what the strategy should be. And it is our job as highly educational leaders to make sure that those strategies get implemented and our learners are empowered. So that’s REP4. It might sound like it makes too much sense, but as my mother used to say, “Common sense is not all that common, son.” For me, it was a very powerful eye-opener to be learner-centric and to put the student at the center of the equation. Kudos to Philly for that.


Drumm McNaughton  26:35

Yeah. Kudos to Phily, for sure. It’s interesting. Everyone says we’re learner-centric. But do they really know what that means? So, the third leg of this stool, besides inclusion and different pathways, is digital education. This is critical. We’re in a digital society.


Raj Echambadi  27:01

Yes. As you rightly said, we live in a physical-plus-digital world. Let’s say I want to buy a headset. I go to an online retailer and say I want this headset. But then I can go to that physical store and pick up that headset. We are living in this seamless world that moves from the physical to the digital.


I personally believe our digital philosophy is going to be extraordinarily important for higher education in the short run fundamentally for two reasons. I think the students who are coming in are going to demand this hybrid optionality. They’re going to say, “Hey, I want to do an internship in the spring, but I don’t want to lose out on learning opportunities. So I want to learn online but be physically in an internship elsewhere.” So, hybrid optionality is going to become important for our residential students.


But just as importantly, I firmly believe that having online options is going to be extraordinarily crucial. I see this line often, “restricting access to education to a select few that come to our campuses.” This, by definition, is exclusionary. Inclusion implies educating students anywhere, anyplace, anytime. Think about students who have full-time jobs and want to work to ensure the needs of their families or rural students who don’t have ready-made options. It is imperative for us as higher educational institutions to build digital access for our students and think about the residential students. Think about hybrid offerings and online offerings.


My viewpoint has also been shaped by my experiences. When I was at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, I led the team that helped develop and launch the first scaled online MBA program in partnership with Coursera. In the six or seven years since its launch, that program now reaches about 5,000 students a year worldwide. It is the largest online program in the world. Ten percent of all online MBAs in the United States come from the university.


Drumm McNaughton 



Raj Echambadi  

So, that tells you the reach of online offerings.  If we want to build a truly inclusive society, having a digital arm is going to be important. I will make one last point. When I talk to fellow university presidents, they often talk about an e-campus and a physical campus. I tell them not to do that. It was e-commerce 20 years ago. It is commerce now. E-campus should be integrated into our physical campuses. Think of it as a digital layer that enables you to give multiple optionality keys to your learners. So, digital is extraordinarily important for the aspirations and ambitions of higher education.


Drumm McNaughton  30:12

I’m going to take just a moment to summarize what we’ve talked about because this is really, really important stuff. There’s the inclusion piece with this. There are different pathways. Everyone doesn’t come through that 17- to 18-year-old pipeline. There’s digital education. You talked about this as a partnership of the willing. You’re creating these alliances with the community college in Chicago, etc. You have your Ascend program. You’re the orchestra conductor. You have a lot of really great players in your orchestra. But you’re the one who brings them all together. Kudos to you for doing that. This is an important thing you’re doing.


Raj Echambadi  31:02

Thank you. What you just said about the orchestra conductor bears repeating. Many times in higher ed, we want to control everything. We want to control the recruiting pipeline. We want to control the experiences. We want to control the relationship with your partners who provide the career outcomes for our students, etc.


What we are fundamentally proposing at Illinois Tech is a different model that requires us to orchestrate resources. There are so many resources out there. The university president should be like an orchestra conductor. So, there are various musicians within the orchestra who have incredible skills. But the university president must orchestrate, conduct, harmonize, and synchronize so there’s unified music. To me, it is about harnessing the power of individual talent so that we can collectively maximize our potential. That can only be possible if we become a part of the ecosystem. We may be the hub of that ecosystem. We have various spokes, if you will. But, it is extraordinarily important that we reject the original end-to-end value chain model.


Whenever I say these things to people that we need to become orchestra conductors rather than individual team players, people say, “Oh my god. We have to give revenue shares. We need to share our profits.” And I always say, “10% of a grapefruit is still better than 100% of a grape.” So what this ecosystem will do is fundamentally expand the pipe for all of us. But more importantly, it will enable us to be truly mission-focused. True inclusion cannot happen if we control every aspect of the experience. That doesn’t work.


Drumm McNaughton  33:07

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I knew this was going to happen. Raj, we are at the end of our time. So, for the folks listening, what are three takeaways for university presidents and boards?


Raj Echambadi  33:21

First, be student-centric. We talked about REP4. Make sure that learners are the architects of their future. That is extraordinarily important. Students are not monolithic groups. They have individual aspirations, individual dreams, and individual motivations. So, try to figure out what they are and capitalize on helping them accomplish that potential through various programs and pathways.


The second point, which we just talked about, is that universities should learn to become resource orchestrators to maximize the individual and collective potential of the institution.


Last but not least is target non-consumption. I come from a business school, so I’m used to business school jargon. It is about expanding access. Offer new programs and pathways. What I mean by this is that whenever we get together as leaders of higher education, we are always worried about the impending enrollment cliff in 2025. That’s a scarcity mindset, in my opinion. We need a growth mindset.


I want to give a couple of numbers, Drumm. In 1860, we had a population of 30 million people. Only 63,000 students were in higher ed. So when you do the math, that’s .002%. Today, 20 million people go to undergrad or graduate education in our two- to four-year colleges out of a population of about 330 million. That’s close to about 10% or 8%. Where I’m going with this is this: Think about all the changes that have happened. Women’s colleges were first formed in the 1800s. We had our first HBCUs after 1865. At the turn of the century, you had immigrants coming in. The GI Bill was in 1945. Pell through the Higher Education Act was introduced in 1965. Digital education came at the end of the 20th century and early part of the 21st century.


We have always been about expanding access and offering new ways and new programs. That’s the way forward for us. The way to think about the future is to bring in people who are not in the four-year program. Expand access to them. Have that growth mindset. Growth mindset is going to do well for us in the future.


Drumm McNaughton  36:07

Oh, I couldn’t agree more. I had a conversation recently with Courtney Brown, one of the folks from the Lumina Foundation. They have a formal goal mission that 60% of people will be college graduates. They are very, very close. They have a deadline of 2025 or 2030. What you’re talking about is helping them make that goal and having a more educated society, which can solve all these problems that we have—listening to folks who know what they want and making it more inclusive.


Raj Echambadi  36:55

Correct. And if I may, briefly, there is a movement afoot, as you know, called Tear the Paper Ceiling that says college education is not required and so on. That’s a very limited perspective. We are trying to target a butterfly with a bazooka with that. Yes, there are affordability problems. We need to tackle them with innovative solutions. I worry about this, Drumm. I’m not saying this purely from a selfish perspective as a university president. I worry about it because when you think about the greatness of our country, especially in the last 100 years, our gross enrolment ratio of people who went to two- or four-year colleges has been very high when compared to other Western countries. This was especially the case at the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where information was becoming more important and data technology began pervading our lives. It is absolutely critical that we have people with college-level experiences and content because that is going to be extraordinarily important for us as a country in terms of economic development. Dare I say it’s a national security issue in the long run. This is why I’m very passionate about inclusion, bringing more people in, and increasing our gross enrolment ratio. This will help us become the leaders of the next generation and our country.


Drumm McNaughton  38:41

Well said, Raj. Well said. What’s next for you? What’s next for Illinois Tech?


Raj Echambadi  38:46

We are excited about many possibilities, Drumm. I have a three-pronged approach. One, reimagine education so that we are not just in the business of degrees but of educational experiences. I’ve already talked to you about being an orchestrator. So, we want to become a network university by assembling like-minded entities to help our individual students and learners accomplish their potential.


Second, we want to be a research-inspired, relevance-inspired research university. There are lots of great schools in the country that focus on basic research. We are about applied research. We are focused on these macro areas: advanced manufacturing, health, medicine, and sustainability.


Last but not the least. I firmly believe this. We live in the Southside of Chicago, the historic Grantsville neighborhood. I firmly believe a strong university must have a strong community surrounding it and do everything in its power to develop win-win relationships with its communities. So we are working on that. Obviously, one of the initiatives we have is called Brownsville Opportunity Engine. Our job is to educate the residents of Brownsville in entry-level technology jobs so they can get middle-class jobs and support their families better. So, we are looking at it holistically. We are very excited about the possibilities and opportunities that are in front of us and thrilled to lead an organization that is so purpose-driven and has a fabulous board, faculty, and staff. So, the future is extraordinarily bright.


Drumm McNaughton  40:46

Well, Raj, thank you for being on the program. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this. This is a testament to what you guys are doing. Keep up the great work, Raj, and thank you again for being a guest.


Raj Echambadi  40:57

Thank you, Drumm, for this opportunity.


Drumm McNaughton  41:00

My pleasure. Thanks for listening today. I’d also like to give a special thank you to our guest, Dr. Raj Echambadi, president of the Illinois Institute of Technology, for sharing how Illinois Tech continues to be an affordable center of innovation. Thanks, Raj. I look forward to having you back on the show to continue our discussion.


Join us next week when we welcome Dr. Marie DeSanctis, president of the Community College of Denver. Marie has a unique background, having been in both K-12 and now community colleges. She’ll talk about the various pathways high school students take to get to college and the strategies that university and college presidents have put in place to ensure students enroll, stay enrolled, and graduate. Thanks for listening. Until next time.



Changing Higher Ed is a production of the Change Leader, a consultancy committed to transforming higher ed institutions. Find more information about this topic and show notes on this episode at changinghighered.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe to the show. We would also value your honest rating and review. Email any questions, comments, or recommendations for topics or guests to podcast@changinghighered.com. Changing Higher Ed is produced and hosted by Dr. Drumm McNaughton. Post-production is by David L. White.

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