Include All Stakeholders for Successful Higher Ed Transformation:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 139 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Nivine Megahed

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Include All Stakeholders for Successful Higher Ed Transformation - Changing Higher Ed Podcast 139 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Nivine Megahed

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 139 with Host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Guest Dr. Nivine Megahed – Include All Stakeholders for Successful Higher Ed Transformation


Successfully reinventing a college or university into a truly innovative school after cutting a major portion of programs sounds near impossible, but the experiences at National Louis University (NLU), a four-campus private institution in Chicago, proves that presidents and other decision-makers can achieve the same without having to rebuild trust in faculty and staff. 

NLU is also the poster child of a university that successfully shakes the status quo. It provides no-cost tuition and grant-covered programs, supports an unprecedented student-first culture that promotes continuous change and accessibility, and has adopted a data-informed mentality to facilitate equity.

To learn more about NLU’s unique journey, Dr. Drumm McNaughton spoke with Nivine Megahed, Ph.D., National Louis University’s 11th president who has spent more than 20 years making higher education more accessible for students of all backgrounds.


Podcast Highlights

  • Stop accepting existing norms. It’s important to rethink the higher ed business model.
  • Culture always trumps strategy. Don’t shortchange culture because there will always be resistance that could jeopardize it.
  • Embrace data to inform decisions.


About Our Guest

Dr. Megahed is the 11th president of National Louis University, bringing more than 20 years of experience in making higher education more accessible for students of all backgrounds to one of the Chicago area’s oldest and most innovative nonprofit universities. Her current strategic priorities at National Louis include creating the modern urban university focused on affordable, accessible, quality education that promotes student success, veterans’ education, new frontiers in digital education, and education across the lifespan.

About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton is a Higher Education Consultant and CEO of The Change Leader. 


Show Transcript

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 And now, here’s your host, Drumm McNaughton.

Drumm McNaughton 00:02

Nivine, welcome to the program.

Nivine Megahed

Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Drumm McNaughton

I’m looking forward to our conversation. You have done some amazing things at National Louis University over the years. You’ve been there about 10 or 12 years?

Nivine Megahed

Yes. Since 2010.

Drumm McNaughton

Wow. I’m sure it seems like the time has just flown by to you. But before we get into National Louis, tell us a little bit about your background. You’ve got a fascinating background.

Nivine Megahed

Well, I have been in the higher ed space for my entire career, starting out as a faculty member. I am driven by this concept of wanting to make a difference in the world. And, initially, it was in the classroom with students. But eventually, it became leading programs and then leading institutions. Today, it’s serving as the leader at National Louis. So, it’s a pretty long history. I’m probably a little bit unusual.

I’ve also worked both in non- and for-profit sectors of higher ed. I think that I have a slightly different lens in that I really love the mission of higher education and nonprofit higher education, in particular. But I also feel like I’ve learned a lot about the discipline of higher education business in some of my other experiences.

Drumm McNaughton

Your family history is also very interesting as well.

Nivine Megahed 1:38

Yes, so I am Egyptian by birth. I am an immigrant to this country. So, it’s pretty exciting to have grown up and to have been able to assume a position like this where I really get to work with so many talented individuals and make such an impact on our communities. When we came to this country, one of the things that really inspired me to take, for example, my most current position was the recognition that my father had been doing a lot of work to serve underserved individuals, very quietly, without telling us, which we hadn’t learned until he was dying. When I learned about that, I said to him, “My god, all my life has no meaning compared to your life.” S at the time when he was getting sicker and sicker, what I said to him was, “I promise you that for the rest of my life, I am going to work to try to make the kind of difference you’ve made in the world.” And that’s actually what led to my most current role and the work that we do here.

Drumm McNaughton 2:53

Which is why I think it’s so fascinating because you bring to your company—and I can’t say it’s completely different because I’m sure there are some other folks who have a similar background as you—a culture of service—a mentality of service—especially to under underprivileged folks that’s in your DNA. And I think that’s one of the things that makes NLU so special.

Nivine Megahed 3:19

Totally. And that is totally one of the things that I think makes this institution a little unique.

Drumm McNaughton 03:28

And for you, it’s a really good fit. As we were talking last week about NLU, it was founded by a woman who was really looking to educate women in that era. Can you tell us a little bit about the history because I think that really comes to bear very importantly on, one, who you are and, two, what the institution is.

Nivine Megahed 3:52

This institution was founded in 1886, and it was by a woman, as you said, who believed in educating other women to educate children. And it started out as a teaching school. I always say that that sounds very mundane today. But in 1886, we had this philosophy that, first of all, children should be seen and not heard. It was a very radical idea to say, “No, we’re going to nurture their mind, body, and spirit. We’re going to teach them to engage with each other in the community and to build their creativity.” That was a very, very unusual stance to take in 1886, let alone educating women who were often immigrant women. This was 1886. Even in the 1950s, the prospects for women were either you became a teacher or a nurse. In 1886, to become a teacher was radical. So, when you really think about what that means for this institution, I always say that the seeds of our DNA were born with our founder.


When I came to this institution, the moniker was “Innovation, access, and excellence,” which completely resonated with me. I read about the history and I said, “Oh my God, there are so few institutions that believe you can, first of all, pursue an accessibility mission where you’re giving individuals broad opportunities to be educated, and at the same time pursue excellence. So often we perceive excellence as meaning you pick the top-tier students, and they make your institution. I always say that’s excellence for wimps. We really pursue excellence by choosing students who really believe they don’t have prospects for higher education and inspiring and by empowering them to become educated and some sort of economic engines for themselves, their families, and their communities. And this institution had it right up there, and then put next to it, “innovation.” I feel like you have to be innovative to pursue both access and excellence. That was the trifecta. For me, it was like, “Oh my God, you’re speaking my love language, you know?”

Drumm McNaughton  06:16

Well, I can easily see and hear that because you just came alive talking about it. It’s a match made in heaven. You’ve got an institution that has the same values that you do. This isn’t a job for you. It’s a calling.

Nivine Megahed 6:32

I would agree with that. It definitely felt like there was a broader sense of this is where I’m supposed to be at this time, working in this place. It’s because it’s speaking so much to who I am.

Drumm McNaughton  06:50

Oh, most definitely. And the recognition that you guys have gotten at National Louis has just been amazing, right? US News & World Report and others are recognizing this unique place and the incredible value that you provide to your students.

Nivine Megahed 7:07

Yes I like to think we’re the norm breakers or the norm contrarians, right? To, first of all, put “innovation, access, and excellence” together is not sort of the norm. Then the second is that the ratings and the acknowledgments that we’ve received are not sort of the traditional acknowledgments. The acknowledgments we received are about achieving social and economic mobility on behalf of our students. They’re about students ranking us as one of the top institutions that prepares them to make the world a better place, which is so mission-relevant for us. But, also, it really speaks to what, I believe, is the sort of true impact that education can have. When students walk away and feel empowered, economically mobile, and like they can now have agency to make the world around them better, how much more satisfying and gratifying can it be, you know?

Drumm McNaughton 08:11

Well, absolutely. And the recognition that you got from Washington Monthly and others is amazing. What brings a smile to my face is that you got second [place] in the Midwest for “best bang for the buck.”

Nivine Megahed


Drumm McNaughton

And the vast majority of your graduates are debt-free upon graduation.

Nivine Megahed

Yes, yes.

Drumm McNaughton

And that’s amazing. But it’s not always been this way, has it now?

Nivine Megahed 08:36

No, it has not [laughs]. So, you talked about how this was a calling for me. When I got here, I very much felt that this was where I was supposed to be, that this was going to be so amazing, and what an amazing opportunity it was going tobe to get to serve as the leader of this institution. But when I arrived and really took a good hard look at the institution, the institution was in a lot of trouble, so much so that we actually had to seriously consider whether the institution was going to survive or not. I remember thinking, even back then, that it was a calling. And I’m like, “What kind of calling is this? I’m going to end up having this place fall apart on me. Oh, this is horrible!” But we just dug in and said, “Alright, let’s have at it and see if we can make this better.”

Drumm McNaughton 09:33

Well, at the beginning, you had to make really tough decisions. With any turnaround process, that’s the case.

Nivine Megahed


Drumm McNaughton

Talk us through some of those decisions you had to make.

Nivine Megahed 09:45

Yeah, so it was 2010-11, and we were in that very long recession. We were not alone in our struggling. A lot of institutions were struggling. But we were struggling more because we were still highly recognized as a teacher preparation institution and not a whole lot else. And, of course, teacher preparation was also in a real downturn. We probably lost 30% of our revenue, and we were very tuition-driven as an institution.


We did a five-week review process across the institution. It was unheard of because we came to the conclusion that the only way that we were going to survive was to reduce programs, staffing, and people, and to reposition institution completely. We could not sustain ourselves. We pulled all the data together that we could on enrollment trends for different programs, student persistence, and all those kinds of numbers. We had a broad series of faculty committees working on all of this, but it was very quick.


What was really interesting was, at the very end, the faculty actually came forward and said, “Here are the programs that, based on these criteria, we really need to cut.” I remember I pulled in the faculty from these governance committees and said, “Hey, guys, so you understand that if we cut these programs, we’re cutting the faculty and a lot of the staff who are affiliated with it. I’m very much committed to a whole shared governance approach on this. Do you guys want to work with us on that?” What was interesting was they said, “Nope, nope. We gave you recommendations. We can’t wait. Just do it. We don’t want anything to do with this because our peers will kill us.” So we did.

Drumm McNaughton 11:39

[Laughs] I hope all those faculties have retired since then because when this comes out, that will be interesting.

Nivine Megahed 11:50

I think they pretty much have. So we proceeded without their input on it, right? I mean, their input was on the programs. They didn’t want us to associate them with it. And I don’t blame them. Who wants to say, “Yes, my peer so-and-so has to be cut now.” Right?

Drumm McNaughton

I get it. [Laughs] “I don’t like that person. So, get rid of them.”

Nivine Megahed

Or worse. [Laughs]

Drumm McNaughton

Or worse. [Laughs]

Nivine Megahed 12:12

So, we made the cut. W pie-cut 25% to 30% of the institution. It was a really, really difficult process. I remember that my peer presidents in Chicago came to me because we hit the papers. It was bad. They said, “Oh, you’re not going to make it. How could you do that? You’re just not going to make it. And I said, “I might not. But I’m in close conversation with the board, and I’ve actually said to them that if they need me to just do the turnaround and go, I’m happy to do that.” They were going, “That’s crazy that you pulled this off. No one does that.” And I said, “We had no choice. You guys don’t get it. There was no choice.”


So we did. And it was hard for a couple of years, right? We had to spend a lot of time rebuilding trust with the faculty. We had to overcommunicate and provide a lot of transparency around what was happening in the strategy and the numbers. We had to share what was working and what wasn’t because they just were devastated by this, which, again, was understandable. But we did it, and we clawed our way back. But we also had the opportunity to think about what we needed to be as an institution. Who should we be? Where do we need to go?

Drumm McNaughton 13:36

So with that, you had to have the board on board? No pun intended.

Nivine Megahed


Drumm McNaughton

Tell us a little bit about those conversations that you had with the board about how to move forward and then about their support afterwards.

Nivine Megahed 13:52

Yeah. You cannot do something like this without the support of the board. You absolutely cannot do it without your board. I’m very grateful that I had a board that had a lot of political will around it, and they said, “We have no choice.” They saw the numbers as much as I saw the numbers. And even though there was a lot of internal revolt and turmoil, they stood with me. They had my back and weren’t one bit thwarted. They were like, “We did what we had to do.”


I remember a conversation when I said to them, “Look, if you need me to step down, I get it. The person who does this is usually the person who then leaves.” And they were like, “No. There is no scenario where you step down.” And each one of them said, “I’ll step down. I’ll take the hit and step down.” and I remember joking with them, “You guys look a little anxious to step down. Why is everyone wanting to step down?” [Laughs]


But no one had to step down, and we did work our way through it. But I will tell you, you have to go through a process of healing. For the next two years, I did monthly dinners in my home with groups of faculty, where we just broke bread together, talked together, and tried to learn who each of us were. They saw that I wasn’t this nefarious, horrible, evil person who just wanted to ruin the lives of faculty and staff.


I actually tell this one story that happened after a couple glasses of wine. And that actually happened on more than one occasion [where we had a couple glasses of wine] because the faculty were pretty mad, right? They were mad at me. They had to be mad at someone, right? I was a great target. I remember one of them was crying to me, saying, “I’m so sorry. I know we’re so mean to you. But please don’t leave us.” [Laughs.]

Drumm McNaughton


Nivine Megahed 15:48

My background is a clinical psychologist. So, I remember thinking, “Gosh, this is like the individuation phase with kids where they’re like, ‘I hate you, but don’t leave me.’” [Laughs]


So, I just said to them, “Hey, we’re in this together. We’ll get through this.” And we did. I’m so glad because so many wonderful things have happened since then. We have had such great impact since then. And what’s interesting is, today, I enjoy a great deal of trust from them. I’m glad that I was able to stay long enough in the journey because when I come up with some crazy idea today and say, “What do you guys think? Should we try that?” They often say, “Yeah, if you think we should try that, let’s go try it”. That’s earning a lot of trust from faculty. [Laughs]

Drumm McNaughton 16:41

That is a lot of trust. I want to get into some of the steps that you took to do this. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. But you’ve got a whole lot of ingredients that have to go into that pudding to make it taste good. So, you had mentioned being mission-driven on your focus. That was really the first thing that you started with?

Nivine Megahed 17:06

Yes. So, we did all that cutting, and we were now down to barebones. And we’re like, “Okay, now we have to reposition. What are we really going to reposition to? What is our bet for the future to really bring back this institution so that it is vibrant and contributing in a great way to the community? We had lots of group meetings on that. Lots of discussions. But I remember one particular discussion with my senior team. I said, “Alright, here are five of the best ideas based on everybody’s opinions across this institution. But we’re only going to be able to apply three of them. That’s because we don’t have much money. So, what are our big bets?” And my line was “If God said to you, ‘You have to choose today what your big bets are and you’re going to live or die by these.” So that freaked out everybody. It made them realize how it was still very dire and that we had to figure it out.


And in the end, we picked three. One of them was that we were going to build our online capacity in a more deliberate way because we served a lot of nontraditional students. The second was that we were going to build our capacity. We had a Florida location to see if we could do remote education in a successful way. And the third one got back to our core of what our founders said. I had come to this conclusion that higher education really was failing. All the media that I had read every single day in our educational newsletters about it being too expensive and about students not getting employment when they were done were actually valid criticisms. We needed to figure out how to redo that. So, our three bets were that we were going to completely re-envision undergraduate education, build out our online capacity, and see if we could work remotely effectively.


I remember I went to the board and said, “Alright, I’ve got three bets on what we think we can do that could really change the trajectory of this institution and that really build out on our mission. And they were very excited. They were most excited about the idea of revisioning undergraduate education. And I remember saying, “Does anyone have any access to funding that could help us?” And we did not have a lot of funding at the time. So, I joke when I say that we started our work with $2.50. We had already cut back dramatically, but we were on fumes. We had to really think very strategically about how we could do this. So, we put together a skunkworks team that has continued to be our skunkworks team. And I basically said to them, “I’m going to give you this crazy task. You’re going to completely re-envision how we deliver undergraduate education. I want it to be incredibly affordable, so students don’t end up with debt. I want it to be higher quality but at that lower cost. And I want you to use every best practice there is to drive great outcomes for our students.” And we came up with this program that was initially called Pathways. And it exploded.

Drumm McNaughton 20:23

In a good way?

Nivine Megahed

Yes. Oh, yeah. Exploded in a good way.

Drumm McNaughton

Okay, because sometimes exploding means it’s a bad thing.

Nivine Megahed 20:40

It exploded in growth. We started out with 80 students and built this program that was $10,000 a year because, in Illinois, you also have access to state funds. Between your state funds and your federal funds, there was no cost. There was no tuition. It was all covered in grants if you were a high-needs student. We built Pathways so students wouldn’t be stuck taking courses that ended up not being relevant to their degree. We believed that we really had to work with students to make sure that not only did they finish their education, but that they were employed, so we embedded a lot of career preparation across the curriculum. We believed we had to stay on top of what was happening to our students, so every student had a success coach. And we built a whole predictive analytics approach. We had red, green, and orange zones of how students were doing so we could proactively intervene whenever we saw them heading for trouble with their grades or attendance, etc.


We were serving some of our most underserved students from the south and west sides of Chicago as well as other students. But because it was so affordable, the word got out that this was a program that would work with you, that had all this coaching, and that would give them a lot of attention. For our first class, we said, “Oh, if we could just try this out on 25 students, that would be great.” But the word got out, and we had about 85 students in a heartbeat. And off we went to the races. The following year, we had around 370 students. The following year was 550 more students. The year after that was 700 students. We were like, “Oh my God. Can we get enough talent in here fast enough to serve these kids?”

Drumm McNaughton 22:23

Good problem to have.

Nivine Megahed

Yes, it was a really high-class problem to have. But it was also so mission relevant. So often these kids did not see prospects for themselves. But we believed in them. We believed in their potential, and we were doing everything we could to nourish their success. And, honestly, the more time I spent with the students who were here, the more I thought, “Wow! It’s hard for me to believe that so often people overlook these types of students and don’t see what they’re really capable of when you just give them a little bit of hope and give them the kind of support that they need.” That was big for us.

Drumm McNaughton 23:04

And, so, you hit breakeven in year three with 500 students. You continue to grow. You build credibility. There’s another piece in this that you’ve touched on earlier. The culture. You had to build the faculty trust. But you also had to change the culture from what’s traditionally higher ed to more of an entrepreneurial state of mind where you were going to go ahead and try things. Tell us a little bit about how you change that mentality.

Nivine Megahed 23:36

Yes. When I came here, people did say we were very innovative. But, I would say, compared to other higher ed institutions, this was a more innovative institution. But it was more like innovative chaos. Everybody was just trying any kind of innovation for any reason and talking about how we were innovative. The first thing I wanted to get clear on was what kind of innovation we really wanted to pursue. And we articulated that we’re innovative on behalf of our students. All of our innovation is to either improve student outcomes, student learning, or the student experience. So once that became clear, some of the ideas that kept getting tagged as beng innovative started to slow down. The second was really talking about how we would go about being innovative. That took a little more work over time. First of all, we were teaching a culture that would help people not be afraid to make decisions. We were teaching a culture that believed you should move fast, fail fast, and keep improving. So it was continuous improvement.

Drumm McNaughton 24:51

Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Failing fast in higher ed? What an oxymoron.

Nivine Megahed

[Laughs] Yes, it’s an oxymoron. And it was one of the harder concepts to teach. I wouldn’t say just higher ed, though. When you think about it, most people hate talking about failing, fast or slow. They don’t see it as the opportunity that it represents. One of the things I also started to do was, 10 years ago, I started going to every one of our new hire orientations. I think by now I’ve probably covered 70% of our population in 10 years. Seventy percent is new. I would [go to these orientations] and talk about the importance of decision-making and failure. I would tell them that our success was actually built on a mountain of failure. It was not built on a mountain of success, unlike how most people would like us to believe. I would tell them that we believe that you should take chances—calculated chances—and always on behalf of our student. And you should make decisions.


One of the small symbolic things that we started building were these “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. For the last 10 years, every new employee gets their “Get Out of Jail Free” card. And I always say, “I want you to never feel like you can’t make the decision. If a student is coming to you, and they need something, rather than saying, ‘I don’t know,’ either figure it out with them or take them to the person who can figure it out or give them an answer. Do something because indecision is so much worse than the wrong decision. Even if it’s the most horrible, wrong decision, 95% of the time, we can undo it. I’d much rather you make a decision than kill the culture of the university by not making decisions.”


Over the years, people have gotten much more comfortable about taking risks and failing fast. I don’t know of any other faculty group who will put together a pilot governance structure, year after year, to try to figure out what’s the best way to go. Initially, our faculty was like, “No, this is the way it has to be. It has always been this way forever.” And I said, “I don’t know. You guys aren’t even enjoying it. Try this for a year, and let’s review it in a year. If you hate it, let’s do something different.” I started doing it, and they actually totally embrace it now. At the end of the year, they’ll say, “Well, I like this. This doesn’t work. I think we need to tweak this. How about that? Look at that continuous improvement. Notice where we’re failing? How do we change it?” I think it’s really become sort of embedded, and people feel comfortable with it at this point.

Drumm McNaughton 27:37

One of the things you mentioned that you would tell folks in orientation was that there’s nothing that’s written in stone.

Nivine Megahed

Yes. Yes. And that not only is nothing written in stone, but always question the status quo. [Laughs].

We are big questioners of the status quo.

Drumm McNaughton 27:56

I remember that from back at the ’60s. Don’t trust anybody over 30.

Nivine Megahed 28:02

[Laughs] Well, I think oftentimes we get trapped in some of our own traditions. I’m always saying, “Question it. Does it really have to always be that way?”

Drumm McNaughton 28:12

We do. The other thing that I really like is that you’ve not only reinforced the culture really well, but you’ve also made data-driven decisions. You build data into everything. You had relayed a story about taking a look at the data.

Nivine Megahed

First of all, we’re a very equity-driven institution. About the culture, you’re right. It wasn’t just about making decisions and all that. It was also about being incredibly data-driven and very collaborative. So, all of that was sort of part of what was driving the way we would do things. I always say we are data-informed, not data-driven because we make decisions. The data is one piece of the evidence. It’s a very important piece. But sometimes you go, “Here’s the data. But my gut says that, because of this, we’re going to go this way.” That’s okay.


One of the things that we saw as we looked at a lot of the equitable outcomes of our students was that our male students of color were failing fast and dropping out of the program at higher rates than everybody else. This was a national trend, and we were looking at it here. We were so puzzled because we had such a diverse population. We thought people would feel a sense of connection. Well, the data was clear. We had the same issue everybody else did. So, we started unpacking it. We did some interviewing and saw that there was not a sense of belongingness, which led to a lot of attrition. So, we built this program called the Eagle Brotherhood, which was basically an affinity group for men of color led by one of our success coaches who was also a man of color. Then, all of a sudden, the attrition rate reverses.


But the academic performance continues to be an issue. So, we’re like, “Alright. We’ve got them connected. We’ve got them excited about being here. Now, how do we help them build their sense of agency that makes them committed to the work?” We’re still working on that and figuring it out. But that’s what I mean by saying that the data kept telling us what to do in terms of what we needed to improve. When we saw that, we saw early on the issues of students having some lack of preparedness for the college work. The research said do it as a co-curricular option. So very early on we built co-curricular courses that helped bring them up to speed while they were in their college programs. Everything was very much about what were we seeing and what we needed to do about it

Drumm McNaughton 30:45

Which is incredible. It’s a great story. This is part of the reason why you are ranked 18th nationally in the Washington Monthly college rankings, which includes a lot of prestigious Ivy schools, etc. And your students are debt free. I’m very disappointed though that you have had to raise your tuition from $10,000 to $11,000 a year. [Laughs]

Nivine Megahed 31:12

[Laughs] We did, it’s still all covered, though, because their reimbursement rates went up a bit, too. But we’ve had to staff a little higher to give them the support they need, so the cost was going up a little bit. We’re like, “Alright, I think we can afford this. They won’t get dinged because their tuition will still be covered.” We’ve also now been able to add some additional sort of student affairs folks who help with the co-curricular work and add more resources to our career area because we’re really committed to our students’ transition into employment when they finish. But, yeah, it’s still going really well.


But I’ll tell you, you have to constantly think about what do your learners and students need to be successful? And, so, we’re now actually looking at how do we make it a three-year program? How do we build in work as part of the program? How can the work be part of a competency-based approach with the coursework they do to accelerate their learning and get their credentials faster? We’re constantly looking for ways to help our students. That’s what I mean by “innovation on behalf of our students.” We ask what must the modeling look like now in order to address the needs that we’re seeing with the students that we have?

Drumm McNaughton 32:32

One of my favorite quotes that I use when talking to my clients about when they’re starting strategic planning or anything like that is from Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. He said, “When the rate of change outside an institution becomes faster than the rate of change inside an institution, the end is coming.” You have embraced that in a major way by continuing the innovation. It’s not a matter of sitting on your laurels. It’s looking at what your students need—and again, it’s very mission focused—and how do you provide them to transform their lives. So, congratulations, you have done an amazing job.

Nivine Megahed 33:21

You’re too kind. You’re too kind. That’s such an interesting quote. That tees right into the hole all the work on disruption and higher education. But I hadn’t heard it. I like it being articulated that way. That makes sense because we do have a lot of change happening outside higher ed. I know that in one of my presentations to the community, I said, “Right now is the public ranks higher ed with less confidence than they rank government, Congress, and big business.” Can you believe it? We are viewed as less trustworthy than government, Congress, and big business. We have an image problem.

Drumm McNaughton 34:04

I would, I would say so for sure. What’s your skunkworks doing now? Because I know it’s still going.

Nivine Megahed

Well, they’re working on a couple of things. They’re also my innovation.

Drumm McNaughton

You probably can’t talk about them because it’s in the skunkworks. You can’t talk about them, right? I’m just kidding.

Nivine Megahed

No, no. So, one of them is the three-year degree program. One of them is looking at how we can work more effectively in competency based [education]. One of them is now in launch phase where we’re doing short-term credentials that stack into the degree. That’s the third one that we’re working on. But, interestingly, yesterday, they came to me about something they got their hands on, and, boy, people should be looking at this. We have Turnitin where you look and see if someone’s been plagiarizing. Well, there are now AI technologies, which are going to be a huge threat to higher ed, because you literally go into this AI—and I watched this, they did this for me—and say, “I want to write a paper on the Ukraine.” So, they put in “Ukrainian war,” and “impact on children nuclear.” So they put in about six words. And this AI wrote three paragraphs. And it was perfect. And put in references. You can ask it to outline the paper that it was going to follow, and then you can tweak and add a few more words. I’m like, “Oh. We’re screwed. We’re in trouble.” [Laughs]


So, these are the kinds of things we constantly look at and say, “How do we use this or work around this?” That was, like, hot off the press from the skunkworks team yesterday that looks not only at launching projects, but constantly scanning to see things that are going to impact us. I was like, “Wow.” [Laughs]

Drumm McNaughton 36:01

Really. For your fellow presidents, I, at least, would say if you don’t have a skunkworks team that’s actively working to improve your institution, you’re going backwards.

Nivine Megahed

Yeah. In this day and age, for sure.

Drumm McNaughton 36:16

Yeah. So, we’re at the end. We’ve blown through our time here. And I knew this was going to happen. Nivine, what are three takeaways for your fellow presidents and boards?

Nivine Megahed 36:27

One, I would say we have to stop accepting the norms that exist. We have to really rethink our business model of higher ed. Two is culture does trump strategy. [Laughs].Over and over again. It does. So don’t shortchange it. I always joke around and say that resistance comes from everywhere. You’ve got to really keep driving your culture. And, three, I would say is that we have to really embrace the importance of data in the work that we do and use data as our way to help inform the decisions that we make in higher ed.

Drumm McNaughton 37:11

Inform, but not completely drive..

Nivine Megahed


Drumm McNaughton

Right. Great. Thank you. So what’s next for you, Nivine?

Nivine Megahed 37:19

I’m going to continue to build here for a little bit. But I always think that the thing I’d like to do after that is to put together an institute to train presidents for what I think the modern university needs. Every time I look at the different ones, I always feel like they do really amazing stuff to help people understand the university. But I don’t feel like they really help drive the understanding of the business of education. And given that the business model is the one that’s so in question, I feel like we really have to help presidents think as CEOs and understand the key drivers of their enterprise. I’m going to try that and see what happens.

Drumm McNaughton 37:56

I think that’s a great ambition to have. Nivine, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure.

Nivine Megahed

Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun.

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