The State of Higher Ed with Matthew Pellish and James M. Danko

The current state of higher education is undoubtedly changing. From the development of new badges, microcredentials, and stackable credentials, to the announcements of school closings, we’re feeling seismic shifts in the industry every day. 

On this episode of Butler Talks, we’ll take a closer look at some of those changes in the national higher ed landscape with Matthew Pellish, managing director of strategic research and education at the Education Advisory Board (EAB), and a well-known authority on the trends shaping the future of higher education

Then we’ll catch up with Butler University President, James M. Danko, to hear about how Butler is adapting, while also preserving our core operation as a selective, private liberal arts institution that’s known for its traditional, full-time undergraduate residential model. 


James M. Danko, President
James Danko became Butler’s 21st President in 2011. During his tenure, he has led a strategy to establish the University as a higher-education innovator through the pursuit of creative new programs and approaches; to advance Butler’s core mission as one that integrates a liberal-arts foundation with professional preparation; and to strengthen Butler’s founding principles of inclusivity, community engagement, and academic excellence.

A key part of Butler’s growing momentum is President Danko’s commitment to enriching the student experience through the transformation of campus—including academic, research, residential, performance, and athletic spaces. In summer 2019, the Lacy School of Business moved into its new 110,000 square-foot home. In fall 2019, the University will break ground on a $100 million renovation and expansion for a new sciences complex. Additionally, Danko has led the University through its most successful fundraising years ever, highlighted by a $25 million gift from Andre and Julia Lacy to name the Lacy School.

In 2013, Danko successfully advocated for Butler’s membership in the BIG EAST Athletic Conference, positioning the University in the company of outstanding peers in both the classroom and athletic competition. He now serves as Chair of the BIG EAST Board of Directors.

In 2016, he signed a historic campus-sharing agreement between Butler and its neighbor, Christian Theological Seminary (CTS), through which Butler acquired nearly 30 acres of land and buildings. This partnership has enabled Butler to expand, to establish a new home for its College of Education, and to bring renewed vibrancy to CTS and the surrounding community.

Interest in Butler is at an all-time high, with the number of applications increasing nearly 140 percent since 2009. In the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings, Butler achieved the No. 1 spot among Midwest Regional Universities for the second consecutive year and was named the Most Innovative School among Midwest Regional Universities for the fifth consecutive year.

Butler’s placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, and in the highly respected Gallup Alumni Survey, Butler outperformed its peers across most items in graduates’ assessment of their student experience—including faculty support and experiential learning, affinity for their alma mater, and overall well-being.

Prior to Butler, Danko served as Dean of the Villanova School of Business and as Associate Dean at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. During his Villanova tenure, financial gifts to the school increased nearly five-fold, enabling it to implement efforts including a new curriculum, a comprehensive student-services wing, and research centers focused on real estate, innovation, and analytics. In addition, the school moved from regional recognition to being ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek as No. 7 in the nation. He also served in leadership roles and taught entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Babson College, and the University of Michigan.

An innovator at heart and in experience, Danko was a successful entrepreneur in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for nearly two decades before beginning his academic career. At age 19, he founded a medical equipment company, which he later expanded into a multi-location healthcare and fitness equipment provider.

Danko is an alumnus of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and John Carroll University, where he earned a degree in Religious Studies. He earned his MBA with highest honors from the University of Michigan. He holds a deep commitment to the Jesuit ideals of intellectual growth, social justice, and servant leadership.

Danko is the father of two grown daughters, both of whom reside and work in the Indianapolis area. He and his wife, Bethanie, live on campus and frequently host Butler students and community members at their home. Danko is a loyal Cleveland sports fan and an avid reader of American political history. He and Bethanie are active supporters of the United Way and other nonprofits that work to improve lives in Central Indiana.


Matthew Pellish, Director of Strategic Research and Member Education, Education Advisory Board

Matthew R. Pellish is the director of strategic research and member education on the Education Advisory Board. Previously, Pellish served in the Education Advisory Board’s member services division, establishing foundational relationships with the executive administration of new member institutions and responding to member priorities through frontline service planning.

Prior to joining the Education Advisory Board, Pellish served as director of continuing education at Wheelock College in Boston, founding this new division with new models for curriculum delivery and business and revenue generation, as well as marketing and student recruitment.

Early in his career as an undergrad Pellish developed a passion for education which expanded early in his career in roles as Director of Continuing Education, Special Assistant to the President, and head of New Program Development at several universities and colleges in the northeast including Harvard University, Cambridge College, Wheelock College, and Saint Joseph’s. His current emphasis on Executive Communications strategy brings his expertise of industry trends, opportunities, and threats to the forefront of institutional and system operations and policy.