Dave Marshall of Mongoose: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational System

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More transparency and visibility into financial outcomes. It should be made very clear to families that, when they’re looking at schools, their outcomes can be expected to be X. Institutions know their outcomes and need to a better job of tracking and telling the story to others.

As a part of my interview series about the things that should be done to improve the US educational system I had the pleasure to interview Dave Marshall.

Dave Marshall is a true technology enthusiast with a commitment to helping colleges and universities engage their audiences using technology-based solutions. In 2009, Dave founded Mongoose, which offers modern engagement solutions that balance automation and human interaction, simplifying and enriching the higher ed experience for faculty, students, families, and alumni. Dave’s desire to make every message count for institutions is evident in Mongoose’s innovative and intuitive software.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?

One way to recognize a need in the market is to be slap-dab in the middle of it. In 1996, I was a student at the University of Dayton. I was intramental in launching a new website and digital tools for UD, which led to a new eara in digital recruitment for the higher education industry.

From that point forward, I’ve professionally focused on providing solutions to higher education institutions that make education and navigating the higher educational system easier for college students, from prospective applicants to proud alumni. Mongoose started in 2009, and the University of Dayton, Division of Public Relations and Enrollment Management, was my very first client.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve spoken with hundreds of schools, run two successful software companies, and met some incredible education professionals. For the most part, these conversations are conducted remotely. When doing a particular case study with Onodago Community College (OCC), the campus was close to our headquarters, allowing us to hop in a car and drive there for our meeting.

It was flattering and humbling to be welcomed into the meeting room by staff members with an air of gratitude. We heard things like, “We love you guys!” They loved the software because it solved their problem, which was the need to communicate conversationally and build relationships with their students.

We heard these wonderful stories of how individual messages could change someone’s life. A single mom working on her associate’s degree nearly had her education derailed when she experienced the death of a family member. Through outreach via text, the staff at OCC reassured the student that the school had the resources to help her navigate the tragedy. She completed her studies, and now is a successful nurse. It’s one example of an experience where you can zoom out and see a field of beautiful stories created by texts.

That experience really opened my eyes to how transformational a single thing like being able to communicate can be. I returned to the Mongoose office and told our team, “You won’t believe how well you’re doing.”

Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There’s a ripple effect. Give good people with good intentions good tools, and they will achieve great things. I think of higher ed a lot like that. There are so many wonderful souls in education who want to help people and believe in the work they do. Many of them are bombarded by the constant critique of, “It’s not good enough. It’s not working.”

For college staff members, more traditional ways of communicating can be frustrating. Their purpose is to communicate with students, and they just can’t do it at scale without the help of technology.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re very proud of being able to help many institutions with our texting solution which has allowed dedicated professionals within higher ed to have student-centered offices and have highly meaningful conversations with their audiences. Our texting solution has successfully allowed students to ask questions, figure out what’s next in the journey, and make it to graduation.

We’ve taken that success one step further, building a virtual assistant chatbot for use on an institution’s websites. This solution has the ability to host live chat conversations, as well as automate chats from a wide range of playbooks. Not only can all website visitors, including students, ask questions but it allows them to complete tasks so that the students can be more efficient and staff time is reserved for genuine human interactions.

Staff members don’t have to waste time on mundane tasks. The chatbot allows students to be more autonomous. Students don’t always need a conversation when completing a task. I’m proud to say we’ve implemented a chatbot and are growing its capabilities to allow more students to complete tasks and ultimately graduate.

How do you think that will help people?

Your fundamental needs have to be met before you can help people. If students do not have their basic needs met, they can’t perform in school. Having questions answered and feeling supported creates a solid foundation of confidence and a sense of belonging. That support can be a launching pad for students for the rest of their lives.

Mongoose isn’t helping students win Nobel prizes, but students can fall off track if they don’t know what to do and where they’re going. We’re working to give students the fundamentals they need to have a good college experience, from the application phase to well beyond earning their degree.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority in the education field?

We have the amazing opportunity to work with 750+ institutions, including private, public, community colleges, etc., all over the country. We get to watch how they communicate with their audiences and what their friction points are. We get to see how they’ve been able to overcome certain roadblocks. We use that knowledge to help other colleges and universities with their challenges.

We have this unbelievable perch in the marketplace. A college president has, in their lifetime, experienced the communication struggles and solutions of maybe, five colleges. We get to see thousands of interactions and best practices. That’s where we can glean our expertise.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

If you look at results as student outcomes, many institutions have been ultra-successful, not just the elite group of schools frequently covered by the media. Graduates have become professionally successful in their particular fields, and others have used the US education system to transform who they are. The results are more whole people, who are better spouses, better family members, and better community members. The education system has helped shape people, who then help our communities thrive. Collectively, the US educational system should be proud of that.

There have been instances where students have pursued degrees and have struggled to manage the debt they’ve incurred. The US Educational system and policymakers need to do a better job to ensure access to all students.

The problem isn’t people working in higher ed. The problem is that their tools aren’t good enough to help everybody sometimes. Processes are complicated. The staff are waiting for these tools that will help, and that’s encouraging. Technology can level the playing field just by its nature. Better tools are being developed to help these professionals communicate better.

Around 2013, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas was launching a texting platform. Much of their undergraduate population was low-income students from traditionally underrepresented populations, and they were worried about student access to cell phones. It turns out, 99% of their students had smartphones. Even research shows that nearly everyone has access to these things because smartphones are ubiquitous in society. It’s a basic need that people prioritize in their life. Is the situation perfect? No, but technology makes it easier. We need to leverage that.

Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?

I applaud how quickly higher ed transitioned to a hybrid model due to COVID-19. The industry is notorious for moving slowly, so it was impressive to see how quickly schools moved to virtual and hybrid learning formats, when needed and are continuing to meet students where they are as society shifts once again.

We still see institutions staying true to their missions, despite a highly competitive environment to recruit students. Professionals in higher education stand up for what they believe in. We are doing a great job there.

Higher ed also continues to provide better outcomes for people. Lifetime earning potential correlates with educational attainment, and economists cite education as the number one factor in social mobility. Per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates make almost a million dollars more over their lifetime than high school graduates.

Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?

Processes need to be addressed. Higher ed is still a labyrinth of archaic and confusing processes for all students, especially first-generation students and minority students.

Higher ed needs to find ways to be more customer-service-centric. Faculty and staff don’t like to consider students as consumers or customers, but there are lessons to be learned from national brands. There’s a reason Netflix is popular. The service is amazing and incredibly customer-friendly. Navigating college is challenging, and there are ways to offer support and provide excellent service.

Offering support and service is critical because the level of trust people have in higher education has waned over the years. Institutions have done a lot with what they have, but they need better technology tools. Higher ed has been built with niche tech systems that are vertically focused. Finding ways to flatten those out will be rewarding for both the students, who will experience better outcomes, and staff members, who will achieve their goals and lighten their workload.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

We need to do a better job of engaging younger generations in STEM–we need to do a better job of engaging everyone, quite frankly. There are ways in which testing is approached that favors males. Most of the time, it’s completely unintentional. Some tests guide young men and women on separate paths. It can come down to us doing a better job of looking at our biases, and how we view society. Whether we as individuals know it or not, we have those biases.

My area of expertise is higher ed, but I’m the father of a 12-year old in a public school, and schools in my state have STEM activities for students of any gender in elementary school. To me, that’s encouraging. The options are presented nicely, it’s not threatening. The school’s approach is to say, “Hey, there are a bunch of interesting things you can learn.” Kids can decide for themselves without being pressured or stereotyped. Now, this is only a small sample size of my little town, but I’ve enjoyed seeing young people immerse themselves in opportunitie

Can you articulate to our readers why it’s so important to engage girls and women in STEM subjects?

It’s important because I believe organizations can be more efficient and benefit from diversity. The more we can foster that, the better. Many people would agree the opportunity is there for young women to participate in STEM, but it’s on us in higher ed and school systems before college to show them the cues that they would be accepted and that they belong. That sense of belonging is vital. If you’re not seeing pictures of girls in lab coats, then you’re not going to feel like you belong. Giving female role-models visibility is super important. We need to go out of our way to ensure we’re giving cues to ALL students who want to get into STEM.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

We have to consider all elements to increase this engagement — language and photography. It is up to us as individuals to be comfortable enough in our own shoes, to recognize our own biases. If you have communication tools, use them to ask how students are doing. Women may encounter more struggles and hurdles. Be there to help them be successful with mentors and resources. Make sure they know what is available to them.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure, what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

More transparency and visibility into financial outcomes. It should be made very clear to families that, when they’re looking at schools, their outcomes can be expected to be X. Institutions know their outcomes and need to a better job of tracking and telling the story to others..

There should be more transparency around the actual cost of education — because it’s a barrier currently. Institutions are trying to use discounting as a sales tactic. Students might not think they can afford a school and give up their search due to sticker shock. If our goal is to be open to everyone, then it shouldn’t only be easy for people who know the system to navigate the process.

There should be more investments in customer experience. Like it or not, students are customers (often for life), but the dropout rate in the US was something like 37% last year. College students need better support from institutions.

Colleges should also be more flexible about certificate programs and when that level of education might be fine. Re-think the pricing model and what offerings fit what the market is asking for today. Amazon is going to do it. Google is going to do it. Higher ed has an advantage now, and if they aren’t open to new models, that would be a big missed opportunity.

We should find ways to make higher education affordable to everyone. Continue to make strides in making it affordable, including perceptions of affordability. These things all overlap. It’s all about transparency.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“In the spring the grass grows by itself.” — Matsuo Bashō

It’s so caveman simple. You wouldn’t try to grow grass in the winter. You wouldn’t run to Home Depot and buy a hundred heat lamps and aim them at your lawn. Use existing rhythms and learned behavior to your advantage and work with people. Not all things have to be a struggle. Fiding that natural rhythm not only can provide inner peace, it can be delightful for others who you interact with as well.

It’s relevant because I always try to find ways to put people in situations where they can make themselves successful. Put people in positions to be successful instead of forcing things, and you’ll see them thrive.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The Dalai Lama. I’m not worthy of that meeting, but it’s been so impressive and rewarding and hopeful to watch how present and loving he can be. Regardless of what’s happening, he always approaches people with kindness. That’s something to truly strive for.

How can our readers further follow your work online?


Dave’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-marshall-3280265/

Mongoose’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/hello-mongoose

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

Dave Marshall of Mongoose: 5 Things That Should Be Done To Improve The US Educational System was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.