Connecting in person

Each year at our American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convention — which kicks off Saturday — I report on the state of the association. In that report, I provide the number of times AACC has interacted with our member colleges and affiliate organizations.

I am always astonished and proud of that number as we take great pride in serving our members. Of course, all of that interaction requires a great deal of travel and I know first-hand of the ups and downs of life on the road. It can be tiring and frustrating as you navigate the country with little to no control over flight changes and weather patterns.

But, for me it is more often inspiring and powerful.

Business travel is often the first victim of less-than-ideal budgets. Traveling can create personal challenges for presidents who strive to find a balance with the needs of their campus community and the need to represent the college to the outside world, be it legislators, business associates, potential program partners, funders, etc. It is a critical part of the president’s job to be in the field.

For some, it is easy to think that technology can replace travel and be used to connect with contacts and partners. After all, today’s technology allows us to connect wherever and whenever, making the decision to cut travel expenses seem easy and reasonable.

But, are those virtual connections helping you to create the relationships that are needed to develop, maintain and expand upon the programs and services that help students and your community? Or is there a greater value to meeting face-to-face? It is a question that I am often asked by first-time college CEOs.

The personal touch

Technology is a great and convenient way to communicate. I often used video- and teleconferencing during the course of business. I have even participated in events and taught classes via technology. It certainly saved time and money and enabled participation in a way that allowed me to connect with the audience. At the same time, it is sometimes difficult to “read the room” as you are presenting. The organic interaction with the audience can be compromised when you are not actually there in person.

As with most things in life, I find that a balance is needed in order to achieve the best outcomes possible for the college and for you personally. Recently, I read an article that showcased a study by Oxford Economics about the return on investment of traveling for in-person meetings for corporations. The study shows that face-to-face meetings garnered increased corporate revenue and profits with both current and potential customers.

This article comes from the new issue of AACC’s Community College Journal. Read it online today.

The study also notes that decreasing expenses for corporate travel resulted in an overall profit loss in that same year as well as stunted profits for the following three years. It took a full three years to realize the same level of profits prior to eliminating travel. Of course, we are not leading corporations, but this data reminded me that the intrinsic value of face-to-face meetings may not be so easily replaced with technology.

There is also something very personal to be gained from face-to-face meetings. The connections that you make when you are with others who share the same goals and drive to help the 12 million students who attend community colleges are strong.

About the Author

Walter G. Bumphus
is president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges.