04/22/2013 11:49 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2013

Higher Education: When Will Digital Natives Share Leadership?

Very interesting: Last week I was in Chicago, at the Higher Learning Commission Conference, where over four thousand people discussed, for five full days, the future of Higher Education and accreditation, setting the course for America's youth and future.

At that meeting, it seemed like no attendees were under the age of 30. Hmm. That seemed funny to me. Like, "You thinking of inviting the digital natives, the future of the country, of the world, of higher ed? Maybe even to speak?" Yeah, not really.

OK, then.

This week finds me in Washington, D.C., at the Public Relations Society of America's Conference, called "Strategic Leadership in a Time of Disruption: Helping Your Team and Your Institution Gain Relevance." About half this room is under 30. OK, maybe 35. They are social media directors of Harvard's Medical School, the public relations guys from big state universities, media players for the University of Virginia, and so on. The ones who handle the communications between their respective universities and the outer world -- they know how to communicate with the major higher ed newswires and news sources in this country. These folks are bright. They are not all speakers at this conference, but I am talking to them in between sessions, and they know a heck of a lot.

The speaker now, Matt Cameron, is about 23-years-old. Max. He is talking about the much-publicized firing of President Sullivan at UVA, and her subsequent re-hire, 17 days later. He is cool, polished -- he will be in charge of something, and soon. He, and the UVA story, are all about social media, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. He gives us the hashtag for this specific presentation, as everybody at this conference does. It is standard procedure, of course. How else would we develop a Twitter feed on the revolution at UVA, or anything else?


Hmm. So, the communications about the inner workings of all of the universities in the country are being handled by those folks? I would bet money that the number of iPads, iPhones and other "smart" products in this room is actually greater than the number of people in attendance. The speaker, making a point about how communications work in the 21st century, asks "Who in the room does not have a smartphone within reach right this minute?" Not a hand goes up. The energy here is that of youth on the ascendant, digital natives, running the guts of higher ed. Oh, older guys are here too, but you can just feel that they are not courant -- with the technology stuff these young ones are breathing like air. The older ones are "running the conference." Yeah, whatever. The young ones are bringing the real stuff. Energetically, they palpably carry the future in this room. It is just a matter of not very much time before they run everything.

But they're not invited to the Higher Learning Commission Conference? Well, let's just say they weren't there. In a keynote speech in a football field and a half-sized room, with maybe 3,000 people in attendance for the keynote speaker, who was talking largely about MOOCS, I bet couldn't have found ten people under 30.

I'm just sayin'.

I don't know what I'm sayin', actually.

But something is not quite right. I'll leave it at that.