Scott Pulsipher

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Expert on Leadership, Disruptive Innovation and Transforming Organizations in the Digital Age; Foremost Authority on the Online Learning Revolution in Higher Education; Advocate of Using Data to Evaluate Performance and Improve Outcomes; President, Western Governors University

Biography

Higher education is fundamentally changing. As the job market shifts to require continuous learning and reskilling from employees, students are no longer overwhelmingly in the 18-24 age group, or from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. Yet most traditional colleges have not adapted to these new realities. In this space, Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University (WGU), is leading a new model of higher education that is widening access for more people than ever before, whether adult learners with full-time jobs and families, or 18-year-olds looking to obtain a degree without leaving home or accruing enormous amounts of debt. Beyond education, Pulsipher draws on his extensive experience as a strategic and visionary business executive to embody a style of leadership that places the customer (student) at the center of an organization’s strategy.

Pulsipher’s approach to leadership and higher education rests on two essential beliefs: that every individual has value and the ability to learn, and that education is one of the surest pathways to opportunity and a more fulfilling life. These core beliefs drive the work Pulsipher leads at WGU, which has graduated 150,000 students in less than 20 years. Online and nonprofit, WGU has pioneered competency-based learning, which focuses on measuring and documenting learning rather than time spent in class.

Pulsipher’s leadership methods center on intense use of data to inform decision-making and improve student outcomes. Data provides enormous insights into what consumers in any industry want and need, says Pulsipher. Consequently, he pioneered data-mining practices at WGU that have led to higher quality of life and job readiness for students, as well as helping to grow the student body. In his keynotes, Pulsipher not only explains his model for higher education, offering lessons for building and leading a digital organization, but elaborates on the broader theme of how to think about and implement innovation in a changing world.

Focused on meeting the needs of underserved, nontraditional students who need access to more affordable and flexible learning and credentialing opportunities, WGU is known for innovating on behalf of students. This innovation has helped drive the university’s exponential growth – from approximately 1,000 in 2003 to 115,000 in 2019. Today, WGU is attracting a new generation of students, diverse in age, race and ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Pulsipher’s expertise as an innovator is far from limited to education. Prior to joining WGU, he was a leader serving several technology-based, customer-focused businesses, including Amazon, Sterling Commerce (now part of IBM), and two successful startups that traversed the retail, supply chain, banking, payments and manufacturing sectors. Pulsipher serves on multiple higher education and technology boards, including: Education Co-Chair for Committee for Economic Development, advisory board member at the Presidents’ Forum, board member at the American Council on Education, and member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.

Pulsipher earned an MBA from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in management from Brigham Young University.

Scott Pulsipher is available for paid speaking engagements including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, conference talks, and advisory/consulting services through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

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Pulsipher, Scott

Biography

Higher education is fundamentally changing. As the job market shifts to require continuous learning and reskilling from employees, students are no longer overwhelmingly in the 18-24 age group, or from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. Yet most traditional colleges have not adapted to these new realities. In this space, Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University (WGU), is leading a new model of higher education that is widening access for more people than ever before, whether adult learners with full-time jobs and families, or 18-year-olds looking to obtain a degree without leaving home or accruing enormous amounts of debt. Beyond education, Pulsipher draws on his extensive experience as a strategic and visionary business executive to embody a style of leadership that places the customer (student) at the center of an organization’s strategy.

Pulsipher’s approach to leadership and higher education rests on two essential beliefs: that every individual has value and the ability to learn, and that education is one of the surest pathways to opportunity and a more fulfilling life. These core beliefs drive the work Pulsipher leads at WGU, which has graduated 150,000 students in less than 20 years. Online and nonprofit, WGU has pioneered competency-based learning, which focuses on measuring and documenting learning rather than time spent in class.

Pulsipher’s leadership methods center on intense use of data to inform decision-making and improve student outcomes. Data provides enormous insights into what consumers in any industry want and need, says Pulsipher. Consequently, he pioneered data-mining practices at WGU that have led to higher quality of life and job readiness for students, as well as helping to grow the student body. In his keynotes, Pulsipher not only explains his model for higher education, offering lessons for building and leading a digital organization, but elaborates on the broader theme of how to think about and implement innovation in a changing world.

Focused on meeting the needs of underserved, nontraditional students who need access to more affordable and flexible learning and credentialing opportunities, WGU is known for innovating on behalf of students. This innovation has helped drive the university’s exponential growth – from approximately 1,000 in 2003 to 115,000 in 2019. Today, WGU is attracting a new generation of students, diverse in age, race and ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Pulsipher’s expertise as an innovator is far from limited to education. Prior to joining WGU, he was a leader serving several technology-based, customer-focused businesses, including Amazon, Sterling Commerce (now part of IBM), and two successful startups that traversed the retail, supply chain, banking, payments and manufacturing sectors. Pulsipher serves on multiple higher education and technology boards, including: Education Co-Chair for Committee for Economic Development, advisory board member at the Presidents’ Forum, board member at the American Council on Education, and member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.

Pulsipher earned an MBA from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in management from Brigham Young University.

Scott Pulsipher is available for paid speaking engagements including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, conference talks, and advisory/consulting services through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

Implementing Innovation: How to Execute Your Organization’s Grand Ideas

It’s one thing to develop an innovative idea; it is quite another to execute and implement it successfully. Scott Pulsipher leads Western Governors University (WGU), a top organization in one of the most innovative and rapidly-growing industries – online education. As WGU has grown its student body from approximately 1,000 in 2003 to 120,000 in 2019, Pulsipher has direct insight into how an idea – in this case that the internet could make higher education more accessible and inexpensive and consequently more widespread – can be translated into a workable, successful reality. In this presentation, Pulsipher combines a personal reflection on his time (still ongoing) as president of WGU with the principles and lessons he has learned in overseeing such an incredibly rapid amount of growth in a young industry. Pulsipher leaves his audiences with actionable perspectives and frameworks for making the leap from innovation-as-theory to innovation-in-practice.

The Future of Education: Lifelong Learning and the Future of Work

There was a time when higher education was a life stage, typically between the ages of 18 and 24, which was then succeeded by a lifelong career. Changes in technology and the workforce, however, now demand that individuals constantly retrain and upskill throughout their lives. Businesses and education institutions have not yet adapted to this new reality, but there is a model for success. In this presentation, Western Governors University (WGU) President Scott Pulsipher outlines his organization’s emphasis on competency-based learning – ensuring that students have mastered every course and skill before progressing – as well as allowing students such as adult learners and/or full-time workers to fit school into their busy lives, rather than having to reshape their lives around school. In doing so, WGU helps learners of various backgrounds and circumstances craft the education journey that works best for them, rather than having to experience the inconveniences and barriers of a “one-size-fits-all” system. Pulsipher also reveals how WGU uses big data to improve students’ well-being and outcomes. The WGU model has proven successful in expanding that institution’s student body a hundredfold over a 25-year period and can offer a pathway to a future in which higher education will have to be personalized, more accessible and inexpensive.

Leading the Digital Organization

We have entered an era in in which many of the world’s largest organizations are mostly or entirely digital. It goes without saying that the old rulebook for leading an organization will not always apply to this radically different business model. In this presentation, Scott Pulsipher, who is leading, rapidly growing and scaling one of the top online universities in the U.S., reveals how to harness the power of data to build a digital organization that puts the consumer – in his case, the student – at the center of its mission. Though Pulsipher’s most recent achievements have been in higher education, his business and consulting background has equipped him with knowledge of multiple industries, and his core lessons can be applied to any organization that is looking to either expand its digital capabilities or transform itself into a digital-only enterprise.

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