In This Issue
- Setting Priorities for Your Division
- Developing the Action Plan
- Funding Your Action Plan
- Strategies to Ensure Implementation
Consider this likely scenario. Your division has identified four strategic priorities that are of both high importance and high cost. But the institution is facing budget cuts, and you actually have less funding to work with this year than you did last year. How do you proceed?
Too often, the answer proposed is more fundraising. While fundraising and friend-raising will be critical to the success of your initiatives, devoting an increasing percentage of your time to raising donor dollars -- if you are relying on this as your primary means of generating additional revenue -- is not a sustainable solution.
You will need to find more creative ways to fund your division's action plan -- either by cost-cutting, or by finding a way for your high-cost initiatives to generate revenue and become self-sustaining.
To help review an array of examples, we turned to Larry Goldstein, president of Campus Strategies, LLC, and Lucie Lapovsky, president of Lapovsky Consulting and past president of Mercy College.
Revenue Enhancement: Thinking Outside the Box
KEY EXAMPLE: DREXEL UNIVERSITY
Looking at the high cost of adopting new technologies, Drexel University adopted an innovative and entrepreneurial approach. The university began providing back-office information technology services to smaller, more resource-constrained, local institutions, who found it more cost-effective to seek these services from Drexel than from another provider. In effect, the local institutions became clients of Drexel's IT unit, which had already invested in purchasing, deploying, and training in the new technologies.
Drexel University's win-win solution turned a potential cost center into a self-sustaining and revenue-generating enterprise -- because they realized that the expertise they would develop in navigating the costs and complexities of deploying new technologies would itself be a marketable service.
If you are a dean on the academic side of the house, Lapovsky notes that a little creative thinking and a willingness to consider expanding the curriculum to new populations, new times and places, and new modalities can yield an array of possibilities for revenue enhancement:
- Can you increase enrollment from non-traditional students (e.g., working adults) by offering more courses on evenings and weekends?
- Can you expand your continuing education credit offerings in a way that is closely aligned with your college's mission (e.g., a college of education could offer weekend CE courses for current teachers at local schools)?
- Can you boost enrollment revenue by offering programs at an off-campus location?
- Can you partner with local high schools to offer courses locally at their facilities, or to expand early college enrollment?
Lapovsky cites the example of the University of Southern California's recent agreement with several for-profit providers to expand their online course offerings. In this arrangement, USC develops the curricula and course design, and outsources the marketing and faculty training to its partners, who take on the up-front costs of those efforts in return for a revenue share. Both parties benefit, and USC has been able to expand its offerings and its revenue with low financial risk.
Goldstein also recommends:
- Check to see if there is any central funding available from the institution. "Don't let your budget limit you in brainstorming about possible resources," he says. "In some cases, there may be resources that are not widely publicized but are available for efforts that are aligned with institutional priorities."
- Look not just for donors but for grants. "Look at FIPSE," Goldstein advises. "Look for foundations with an interest in what you're doing. So often, we think of grants only in terms of sponsored research, and forget to check for grants that would fund improvements."
We asked Goldstein how to encourage and solicit outside-the-box thinking:
"When planning, open the door to more people so you get a broader range of ideas. Summarize the budgetary reality and then ask, "What else can we do?" Get all the ideas in the room, then think about which ones are worth pursuing. Don't worry right now about screening out the bad ideas. Let the bad ideas come in with the good, and find the nuggets."
Larry Goldstein, Campus Strategies, LLC
Goldstein recommends ensuring a broad mix of personnel in the room. Bring in clerical staff. Bring in students. "When looking for fresh opportunities, don't just rely on the usual suspects." Goldstein directs attention to a recent television spot by Domino's Pizza that tells the story of how the company's most recent big innovation came not from the extensive expertise of its R&D department but from the staff of a small pizza shop in Findlay, Ohio. You want a diversity in perspective; you can't predict where the best ideas will come from.
Cost-Cutting and Efficiency
KEY EXAMPLE: UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON
In one of the most memorable examples we've found of leveraging cost savings to fund needed investments, the facilities management division at the University of Wisconsin-Madison pioneered a project it dubbed CURB (Concentrated Upgrade and Repair of Buildings). CURB is an initiative to achieve long-term savings in facilities repair and renovation by using energy and water savings garnered through efficiency projects (most of which have seen a four- to five-year payback) to fund maintenance efforts.
Faramarz Vakili, UW-Madison's associate director of the physical plant and the head of the project, recognized that energy savings represented a significant and untapped source of funding that could be leveraged to both carve into the deferred maintenance backlog and fund further sustainability efforts. Pursuing the project in manageable phases (by investing in energy efficiency upgrades for one facility at a time), he generated savings that could be used to tackle a longstanding and expensive campus problem. You can learn more about CURB in our article "Proactive Approaches to Deferred Maintenance."
Besides identifying ways to generate new revenue, are there opportunities to improve efficiencies and trim costs, using the savings to fund high-priority activities? Lapovsky suggests both reviewing your administrative structure for any redundancies and auditing processes to find opportunities for automation.
One frequently missed opportunity, Lapovsky notes, is to automate the process by which advisors spend time walking through a checklist with students to ensure they have met their degree requirements. "The registrar is likely relying on software that audits this," Lapovsky remarks. "Give advisors access to it. Give students access to it -- allow them to self-audit their degree requirements. Free up the labor and the time."
A Close Look at the Academic Side of the House
If your division is within academic affairs:
- Review your course scheduling and its impact on course enrollments; if courses are scheduled according to when faculty most want to teach rather than when students most want to take courses, you may be scheduling in ways that don't maximize enrollment
- Audit release time and the reasons it's given -- are there some instances in which faculty are granted release time for reasons that made sense 10 years ago but no longer do? (Lapovsky cites the example of release time granted for organizing holiday festivities.) At a larger college, an audit of release time could yield the equivalent of many full-time faculty
- Give thoughtful consideration to your mix of faculty -- does it make sense for your institution to employ more part-time faculty? (determine whether or not this would allow you to add flexibility to your curriculum)
- Take a sophisticated look at faculty productivity and faculty workload; rather than measuring the number of courses per faculty member, look at the number of student credit hours generated; "if a number of faculty are generating lower credit hours," Lapovsky notes, "we could be teaching quite a few boutique courses. Do we need so many? Can we collaborate with another institution to offer some of them to both our students, so that we have fewer under-enrolled courses?"
Partnerships or consortia to provide courses represent an often under-utilized resource. Offering one additional example, Lapovsky suggests the potential uses of OpenCourseWare, MITx, or Carnegie Mellon Online to free up some faculty time for new priorities by investigating open courseware. Are there areas in your curriculum where it would be appropriate to use open courses and then add a discussion section with weekly meetings, an exam, or a learning portfolio -- rather than offering another full course?
This approach allows you to invest one of your institution's most valuable assets -- the unique expertise of your unique faculty -- toward those prioritized efforts that truly differentiate your institution. Whether you are looking to a partner company to provide marketing services (as the University of Southern California did) or looking to a partner institution to provide certain courses, in either case the question is: Are our division's limited faculty and staff hours being expended in ways that best meet our students' needs, best serve our top priorities, and allow us to move us forward into the future?