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Looking Within

July/August 2017

By Carole Schweitzer

Delving into organizational details, with representatives of all parts of the campus, can uncover opportunities for growth and efficiency.

Colleges and universities currently in financial distress must dramatically remake their economic models to survive, but even institutions that are ‘doing well’ are often criticized for failing to maintain affordability and access.” This harsh reality is a key conclusion of NACUBO’s Economic Models Project (EMP), launched in 2014.

The project team convened dozens of focus groups, with representatives of not only the association’s four constituent groups, but also with other college and university leaders including board members, presidents, provosts, and deans, to understand the economic challenges they are facing. Findings pointed out ever-rising tuition discount rates with little effect on enrollments, large declines in state funding, and growing skepticism as to the value of higher education.

The following articles illustrate several ways in which institutions are examining their internal dynamics to identify opportunities for improvement and innovation. “Personalized Pathways,” for example, describes the collaborative work among various campus entities that resulted in The Furman Advantage, a four-year educational formula to enhance student preparation for future success while strengthening the university’s competitive edge.

Expanding on the idea of enriching students’ campus experience, “Immersion Excursion” focuses on colleges and universities that are offering experiential learning opportunities in a big way. Students and faculty are working closely together to formalize programs that add value to university life and well beyond.

One of the tools that higher education business leaders are applying to business model transformation is that of data analytics. For “A Matter of Priorities,” Margo Vanover Porter talked with representatives at both private and public universities about how they had examined information about academic programs to determine financial impacts of courses being offered. New software tools allow chief business officers, faculty, and other administrators to review and evaluate resources as a basis for curriculum decisions.

At the University of Alaska Anchorage, for example, “because of the financial constraints and budget cuts the institution suddenly faced, program prioritization became a very fortuitous framework for making decisions,” says Samuel Gingerich, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “There was relatively quick agreement that programs in the bottom quintile were logical places to find savings.”

These are only a few of the many efforts to move toward long-term viability. NACUBO’s Economic Models Project team is at work assembling other ideas and strategies to assist in dealing with institutional challenges. Look for NACUBO Higher Education Models Project: A Discussion Guide, to be available on the NACUBO website in the fall.

CAROLE SCHWEITZER is editor in chief of Business Officer.