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Business Officer Magazine

In This Together

If higher education institutions intend to move forward to meet ever-more-challenging strategic goals and objectives, collaboration with and outreach to a multitude of partners is essential. Often overlooked, however, are those relationships that exist in the institution’s own backyard.

By Patricia A. Charlton and Darren Divine

As leaders of the College of Southern Nevada (CSN), we recognized that if we were to manage resource constraints and continue to be responsive to student, faculty, and community needs, leveraging institutional relationships was absolutely critical. And one of the most important partnerships is that between the academic and finance divisions. Serving respectively as chief business officer (CBO) and chief academic officer (CAO) of our institution, we've come to realize the value of bringing both perspectives to the decision table. See also "A Solid Front" in the March 2013 issue of Business Officer magazine.

Now More Than Ever

During the past several years, financial resources in higher education have dwindled as public revenues have declined at alarming rates. Enrollments that hit a peak during the height of the recession are now in jeopardy, as the nationwide financial challenges continue and financial aid enabling students to attend college is being threatened. Nevada, one of the hardest-hit states in the economic downturn (and CSN's main source of revenue), struggles to rebuild its sluggish economy.

Within this context, we all have to be good stewards of the college's financial resources. Starting with the vice presidents and continuing on to the managers responsible for the daily operations, academic and administrative managers have come together to find creative solutions to accomplish both mission-critical and day-to-day needs of a thriving institution.

Departments within the finance and administration and academic affairs divisions work together cohesively, particularly in the area of resource allocation. For example, finance's leadership is included in academic leadership meetings. Human resources department and budget office personnel participate in meetings with academic leadership to identify critical needs and the best methods for obtaining the greatest utilization of the scarce resources that are available.

Focus on Top Priorities

At the forefront of CSN's operations are two critical student-focused initiatives: Complete College America and Achieving the Dream, both of which focus on student achievement, completion, and graduation objectives. To pursue these major priorities, CSN most not only conduct comprehensive planning. The college community must also work together to identify objectives to meet these traditionally unfunded initiatives while figuring out proper resource reallocation from across the college.

Although this planning takes time away from our daily operational tasks, it also affords an opportunity to bring together a wide complement of employees to address how we achieve student completion, intensive support, and quality services. To balance the revised budgets, both commitments require creative solutions.

At CSN, we've accomplished this through another form of partnership—a unified message based on our shared vision to use the college's resources in the best way possible to meet our institutional priorities. To effectively convey our message, we use consistent language in both formal (written) and face-to-face conversations, and in joint meetings among managers and staff.

We can see the message's influence as staff, faculty, students, and administration pull together in campuswide participation to identify areas of cost reduction, process streamlining, and opportunity for achieving efficiencies and effectiveness. We've realized some progress through a sometimes painful process, as our budgets remain challenging.

One example of a strategy used to improve efficiency was the adoption of a "midnight college." While enrollments have increased, the college has been limited in its ability to add new facilities or lease space to meet student demand. Since Las Vegas is unique and truly a 24-hour town, we piloted the offering of high-demand classes that begin at midnight.

To be successful, we had to engage facility staff, auxiliary service support, library resources, and technology services. A few hiccups occurred along the way, including issues with ensuring that automated lights were activated at the right time and modifying the registration system to accommodate the crossover of a section from one day to another-after midnight.

This program has been quite effective in terms of attendance, course completion, and flexible faculty who volunteer to teach the additional sections.

Daily reconfirmation from division leadership to front-end workers keeps this message and its related goals a consistent affirmation that permeates our college and underscores the ongoing need to work effectively and conscientiously.

Go With a New Flow

Historically, CSN has been a nimble and responsive institution in our community. We take pride in our ability to meet the needs of our local business and industry partners and the residents of Southern Nevada.

Here are some examples of the partnerships that we've been able to establish.

  • Retraining hospitality industry workers. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, the Las Vegas economy saw a sharp decline in travel and tourism, a main economic driver for our community. At the time the major resorts and casinos were forced to lay off staff, CSN had begun to realize that the need for trained health professionals was on the rise. The college worked with local employers to identify staff who had lost jobs in hospitality, offering them opportunities for retraining, scholarships, and work-skill development.
  • Instructing future firemen. Through a unique partnership with the City of Las Vegas that began in fall 2011, CSN's Charleston Campus has a fully operational fire station that also houses an academic instructional learning center-the first of its kind in the nation. This partnership has led to development in the college's ability to obtain uniquely qualified faculty and provide customized program development for local municipalities. In fall 2012, CSN provided curriculum and instruction for the Las Vegas Fire and Rescue rookie school. This endeavor opened doors to partnerships with other local municipalities and created a win-win situation for all involved.
  • Providing ongoing training and workforce development. CSN has a robust and dynamic division of workforce and economic development. This self-supporting division has developed through its responsiveness to the local business community. Through a partnership with the City of Las Vegas, CSN provides support through consultation services, business courses, and employee job skills development in an effort to rebuild the local business community. Programs, including adult basic education, English as a second language, and small business training and development, are benefiting our local community as well as providing enticements to businesses and entities looking to relocate to Las Vegas.

As these partnerships illustrate, it takes all members of our college community to make achievement of our initiatives a reality. It is in working together that we can move not only our college but also our overall community forward to effectively meet its unique needs. A shared commitment is essential to meeting these goals—and we at CSN are all in this together.

PATRICIA A. CHARLTON is senior vice president for finance and administration, and DARREN DIVINE is vice president of academic affairs at the College of Southern Nevada.

Business Officer Plus