Why Executive Coaching Works in Higher Education

“When a leader gets better, everyone wins!”

July 5, 2022 by Dr. Candace Goodwin – Although every industry has undergone significant changes over the past several years, higher education has been impacted more profoundly. When the pandemic hit, traditional colleges and universities were abruptly forced to adapt their mindset and move toward thinking differently, scrambling to transform standard brick-and-mortar programs into online or hybrid delivery modalities. Colleges and universities that already had successful online programs could pivot quickly and sustain student enrollment. Universities unable to make these changes rapidly faced many challenges.

High education leadership teams were confronted with workforce challenges they had not faced before. The changes in the economy, staffing shortages, healthcare concerns, loss of international students, diversity, equity, and inclusion were all simultaneously impacting higher education. College leadership focused on enrollment as their highest priority and lost sight of how the pandemic influenced staff and shaped their expectations and preferences. Employees were seeking out empathy, remote work, and flexible work hours and wanted to feel more connected than ever.

As the environment of higher education leadership becomes more complicated by outside events and shifting employee motivations, the benefits of executive coaching only increase. High- quality executive coaching balances organizational priorities like enrollment with the leadership development and insight required to move those priorities forward. Executive coaching is an essential problem-solving tool for higher education executives seeking support balancing leadership challenges and understanding the higher education landscape from both the 30,000 ft elevation and the 100 ft elevation.

The top three reasons why higher education executive coaching works:

1. Executive coaching activates and animates wisdom.

Many executives and aspiring higher education leaders lean most heavily on their level of intelligence. Clayton (1982) defined intelligence as the ability to think logically, conceptualize, and abstract from reality. Intelligence focuses on how to do. It helps leaders accomplish and achieve.

By contrast, Clayton defines wisdom as the ability to grasp human nature, which is paradoxical, contradictory, and subject to continual change. Wisdom provokes a person to consider the consequences of their actions on themselves and the effects on others.

Wisdom helps people decide whether to pursue a course of action. Higher education executives work in concert with many others. It is incumbent on all higher education leaders to work with their wisdom.

The difference between intelligence and wisdom can be described as knowing what vs. knowing how. According to Stenberg (2005), knowing how adds creativity and experience to our knowledge. While an executive has proven intelligence, the wisdom gained by learning from various experiences provides multiple points of view at their disposal to solve problems creatively.

It is no longer sufficient to only have intelligence and management skills to make high- level and far-reaching leadership decisions. Wisdom is a crucial component of good leadership. Staudinger, Lopez, and Baltes (1997) found that individuals who discussed life problems with another person and reflected on the conversation before responding out-performed others. Executive coaching can make the difference in that kind of wisdom and more.

An executive coach for higher education helps college and university executives activate and animate their wisdom. Executive coaches guide leaders to go beyond reporting metrics and learn ways to increase their wisdom through natural reciprocity, investing in their team, and developing new leadership traits. The result is a higher education leader able to make more creative and cultured decisions that are the best for university and college leadership, staff, and students.

2. Executive coaching galvanizes conscious and intentional conversations.

There are two conversations we have every day. One is with other people—and one is in our heads. Having conversations with other people can feel fraught in this increasingly complicated world. Higher education executives need to ensure their conversations are conscious and intentional. Executive coaching can help!

Conscious conversations encourage connection and overcoming differences. The basis is hearing and understanding instead of judging as right or wrong. Participants in a conversation of this nature must be fully present, listen fully and respectfully, keep an open mind, and be patient. It is important to understand that conversations of this kind are a skill to be learned and built upon. There is always room to improve communication as a leader.

Intentional conversations are purposeful and planned. Being intentional means being strategic in how to communicate, what to communicate, and to whom. Intentional conversations can make staff members feel valued and ensure that conversations are productive.

With an executive coach, higher education executives can build confidence in their ability to have conscious and intentional conversations.

3. Executive coaching stimulates creativity.

With the landscape for higher education rapidly changing, a successful higher education executive needs to move beyond the same old, same old. It is time for creativity in all aspects of leadership. Nothing helps creativity like the collaboration that comes from partnering with an executive coach.

Most executives could benefit from switching things up and taking their leadership off auto pilot. A significant outcome could be developing a flexible mindset and considering new ways to get things done. A lack of creativity could result in missing opportunities for innovation and growth. Working with an executive coach helps open the door to explore innovative ideas and getting excited by new, creative possibilities.

Bonus 4th reason higher education executive coaching works:

4. Executive coaching creates “emotional safety.”

Having emotional safety means feeling secure enough to be your most authentic self, and isn’t that the ideal for all employee-leader scenarios? Who wouldn’t want to bring their real selves to work? Well, that takes work. Emotional safety is an important aspect of having a satisfying connection. Connection is increasingly vital to today’s workforce. It is worth the investment.

Higher education executive coaching cultivates emotional safety so executives can get the most out of their experience. Our brains constantly detect whether a situation is safe or dangerous. When people experience safety, they are better listeners, able to collaborate more, innovative, creative, and able to connect with others. Emotional safety has positive effects that flow to others.

Emotional safety encourages freedom of expression and increased compassion. A skilled executive coach can help guide you to understanding and increasing emotional safety.

Executives and leaders in higher education benefit from the investment in high-quality executive coaching. Coaching is transformative—helping leaders leverage their best selves. An executive coach empowers creativity, impact, connection, and influence. Great leaders have great coaches—everyone can use that kind of support! Especially leaders working in higher education.


Aides, Kim. “Six Reasons to Hire an Executive Coach.” Frame of Mind Coaching, 16, Nov. 2021, https://www.frameofmindcoaching.com/blog/reasons-to-hire-an-executive-coach.

Boeder, E. “Emotional Safety is Necessary for Emotional Connection” The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/emotional-safety-is-necessary-for-emotional-connection/

Clayton V. (1982). Wisdom and intelligence: the nature and function of knowledge in the later years.

International journal of aging & human development, 15(4), 315–321. https://doi.org/10.2190/17tq-bw3y-p8j4-tg40 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7183572/

Drake, David and Webb, Peter (2018).” Coaching for Wisdom: Enabling Wise Decisions.” Research Gate, February 2018, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323257694_Coaching_for_Wisdom_Enabling_Wise_D ecisions

Levine, Arthur and Pelt, S. “The Future of Higher Education is Occurring at the Margins.” Inside Higher Education, 4, Oct. 2021, https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2021/10/04/higher-education- should-prepare-five-new-realities-opinion

Staudinger, U.M., Lopez, D. F., and Baltes, P. B. (1997). The psychometric location of wisdom-related performance: Intelligence, personality and more. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(11). 1200-1214,

Sternberg, R. J. (2005). WICS: A model of leadership. The Psychologist- Manager Journal, 8(1), 20-43.

Sternberg, R. J. (2005a). WICS: A model of leadership. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 8(1), 20–43

Dr. Candace Goodwin a member of the Edu Alliance Group Advisory Council is a culture strategist and the CEO of Organizational Leadership Partners, an organization that helps leaders achieve exceptional results through the alignment of organizational priorities and culture. Candace’s expertise in culture, employee engagement, emotional intelligence, and leadership development provides guidance to leaders who desire to create an environment where people can do their best work.

Dr. Goodwin has a Doctorate in Organizational Leadership, an MBA in Human Resources, and a Bachelor’s degree in Finance.

Edu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, and Bloomington, Indiana, USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission-critical projects. Our consultants have accomplished university/college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. If you like to know more about how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com 

Attracting International Graduate Students

May 31, 2022, by Don Hossler – Setting a Context for Recruiting International Graduate Students

There is a dearth of research on the factors that influence international graduate students to select the graduate program in which s/he will enroll. For decades, my advice to enrollment managers has been to look at the research on what influences the enrollment decisions of high ability domestic undergraduates and assume that many of the same factors will be at play. Keep in mind that for these prospective students the decision to enroll out of home country is a risky decision. It is risky because many of these students will have never lived out of their home countries. Students from more affluent families may have traveled abroad, but many  prospective students will not have done so. They are unaccustomed to the cultural norms in other countries.

Recruiting international graduate students involve different considerations. For example, international students seeking master’s degrees in applied areas such as MBAs, and students looking at Ph.D. programs in STEM fields will have different concerns. Prospective students may have never studied in a setting where the language of the host country was the only language spoken. If a student is from some regions of Africa, Asia, or South America it is possible that the teaching style to which they have been exposed is didactic. But if the student is looking at studying in Western Europe, Canada, the United States the instructional style will be more dialectic, with give and take between students and faculty. All of these factors should be considered when universities/specific graduate programs craft recruitment strategies.

Female students from Europe or North America, may be reluctant to consider graduate programs in the Middle East or parts of Asia because the roles of women, both inside and outside of the classroom is more constrained. Women from more religiously conservative Islamic countries may not be allowed to travel outside of home country without a male chaperone (Muharem). When graduate programs are considering the applications from students who have not grown-up in western industrialized countries consideration should be given to the fact that GRE score may not accurately reflect the abilities of prospective students. It should be clear by this point those institutions who seek to recruit graduate students from across the globe need to do their homework to be culturally sensitive.

The Importance of Program Quality

For graduate programs that seek to attract the best students from around the globe there are some universal truths.

  1. One of the differences between graduate and undergraduate programs is that students are likely to have courses taught by some of the leading scholars in the field. Graduate programs need to capitalize on this when attempting to recruit international students.
  2. The ranking of a graduate program is of great import. The further a graduate program is removed from being ranked among the best programs in the world, the more difficult it becomes to attract top graduate students.
  3. The reputation of individual faculty members also matters. In top ranked MBA programs, or in a STEM field for example, there may be a single professor that is regarded to be amongst the best researchers in the world in his or her field.
  4. For prospective graduate students looking only at elite programs, it is important that they have a chance to interact with faculty members by phone, video conferencing, email, and visits to campus prior to enrollment. There is always the risk that a  world-renowned professors will treat students like they are lucky to be talking to him/her – which is a mistake. Returning to a theme from my last essay on recruiting international undergraduates, graduate programs should court these top students, they will have other choices. Do not treat them like you are their only choice.
  5. Another important consideration for prospective students is the opportunity to participate in internships or to serve as research assistants (and later in post-doc fellowships). For more applied master’s degree programs, the opportunity to be part of consulting efforts can be a consideration. Finally, the longer the time period allowed for time spent in internships or in post-graduate fellowships – the better.
  6. In addition, cost matters. Prospective doctoral students in STEM fields will assume that they will get a research assistantship that will cover all, or most, costs. Most master’s degree programs do not include assistantships, thus tuition and fees, along with the availability of financial aid will influence their decisions.

In addition to the factors above, there are other considerations for prospective students. In fields and programs, where students hope to become pre-eminent researchers there is often a preference that instruction be in English. There are practical reasons for this preference. For prospective doctoral students, the majority of the top journals in STEM fields are published in English. Often conference papers are presented in English. In the case of business, both spoken and written English is the lingua franca of international business.

While less important, there are other considerations for prospective students. The permeability of the country culture in which the institution has been admitted can also be a consideration. Can students easily connect with other students and the wider community? Personal safety is also a factor. For example, this is often a concern about studying in the United States. In addition, any recent perceived mistreatment of international students quickly spreads across the globe. The visa process put into place by the Trump administration or China’s decision to expel all international students during the pandemic are examples of government policies that can influence the decisions of future graduate students.

Many  international students are admitted and enroll in less prestigious graduate programs so high rankings are not always a key factor. Some students coming from Third World Countries may hope to immigrate to the country in which they choose to study. Thus, the probabilities of legal immigration can matter. Proximity to extended family and of course the probability of being admitted can be a factor.

What Should Graduate Programs Do?

            Graduate programs that seek to enroll international students need to organize themselves to do this effectively. Unlike efforts to enroll undergraduates, where the image of an entire university plays a major role in matriculation decisions, the prestige and structure of an individual graduate program is what matters. The faculty of the program, with the support of the academic unit in which the program is housed, need to be clear eyed about the program’s strength and weaknesses. In addition, graduate programs need  to collect information on all of the students who applied, which ones were admitted, and where they enrolled. The use of data is critical especially for programs that are seeking to move higher in rankings schemes.

            Successful efforts require more organizational structure and focus than is often found at the program level. Any fellowships and scholarships need to be used in a strategic and coordinated manner. Programs need to develop communication strategies and targeted web pages –  this is necessary regardless of how highly ranked a graduate program may be. Both the communication streams and the website need to be customized to reflect the unique interests of international students. The concerns of prospective international doctoral students in Education are different from those of potential master’s students in Bioinformatics, or potential Ph.D., students in Materials Science.

            For universities and for graduate programs that seek to enroll more international graduate students there are a host of factors that influence students’ enrollment decisions. Program leaders need to be thoughtful and strategic in order to achieve their goals. Less prestigious programs may need to consider using recruiting agents, similar to undergraduate recruitment. It is likely to be necessary to assign many of these tasks to a professional staff position who has the time and expertise to create a highly integrated recruitment, admissions, and scholarship function.

Donald Hossler a member of the Edu Alliance Group Advisory Council is an emeritus professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University Bloomington (IUB). He currently serves as a Senior Scholar at the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice in the Rossier School of Education, at the University of Southern California. Hossler has also served as vice chancellor for student enrollment services, executive associate dean of the School of Education, and the executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Hossler’s areas of specialization include college choice, student persistence, student financial aid policy, and enrollment management. Hossler has received career achievement awards for his research, scholarship, and service from the American College Personnel Association, the Association for Institutional Research, the College Board, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. He recently received the Sonneborn Award for Outstanding Research and Teaching from IUB and was named a Provost Professor.

Edu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, and Bloomington, Indiana, USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission-critical projects. Our consultants have accomplished university/college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. If you like to know more about how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com 

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