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Business Officer Magazine

Business Intel

A roundup of short news articles and useful resources for business officers

SUNY's Two-in-One Administrative Alliance

Facing budget cuts of nearly $1.5 billion during the past several years, the State University System of New York (SUNY) and its 64 campuses were forced to assess various campus functions and set priorities based on overall institutional impact. Basically, the campuses needed to find ways to carry out their academic missions in the midst of increasing enrollments, declining budgets, and growing operating expenses.

One initiative, envisioned by leaders at SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam—which are located in St. Lawrence County in northern New York—involved developing a unique administrative alliance that has fostered shared services across the two campuses. Early results indicate that the concept—which includes sharing resources, expertise, and even personnel—can lead to operational efficiencies, improved services and quality, and the redirection of funding to the academic and student services of the two campuses. Outcomes in these areas were so significant that NACUBO recognized the administrative alliance concept with its 2013 Innovation Award.

Two Missions, One Back Office

The two independent SUNY institutions have different missions, with distinctive academic programs. While SUNY Canton is one of eight technology colleges within SUNY, offering career-focused bachelor and associate degrees and professional certification programs, SUNY Potsdam is one of only three of the system's designated art campuses, offering bachelor and master's programs and concentrating on liberal arts, music, and performing arts.

By coincidence, in 2011, both campuses were faced with the impending retirement of their respective long-service vice presidents for business affairs and administration. Leaders from each campus began conversations as to how they could turn this situation into an opportunity to work more closely together. In July 2012, shortly after the retirements, the two institutions hired Natalie Higley as vice president for business affairs and administration to serve both colleges, creating a unique and wholly distinctive position within SUNY.

Higley was charged with continuing to look at creative ways to decrease operating costs on both campuses while maintaining service levels and increasing funding to academic and student services. Building momentum for the shared services concept, Higley began analyzing campus operations and developing plans to align back-of-the-house activities.

Dual-Purpose Developments

In determining the priority areas appropriate for a combined-service approach, campus leaders concentrated on addressing the areas exhibiting the largest risk from the standpoint of operations, finances, and health and safety. With that in mind, human resources and payroll were the first to be considered; senior leaders brought staff together to conduct a risk analysis assessment with regard to creating a shared department.

During the process, employees began to open up with one another and soon found that working collaboratively would likely create a stronger department with more resources, knowledge, efficiencies, and adherence to best practices.

Leaders designed a phased-in approach to offset concerns over operational changes. During approximately eight months, a near-seamless transition to a shared HR/payroll function came together—and set an example of what might be done in other departments. Following suit were departments of environmental health and safety, university police, and compliance.

Similar discussions about improved services and risk aversion evolved into dual-campus services, which allowed the two institutions to redirect administrative funding from these areas back to their academic missions. In addition, the shared personnel positions now include a chief information officer, chief of police, assistant vice president for human resources, environmental health and safety director, veterans' affairs officer, interlibrary loan specialist, and upholsterer.

Impact and Implications

During the first nine months that the administrative alliance was in place, SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam realized savings of nearly $1 million. Areas of savings or cost avoidance experienced by the two campuses included:

  • More than $500,000 in personnel costs.
  • Nearly $225,000 in avoided costs related to the rolling out of a joint environmental health and safety program.
  • Approximately $20,000 in savings by consolidating printing services.
  • Almost $25,000 in administrative cost savings by sharing a procurement card program.

With considerable savings already in the bank, SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam continue to build on the administrative alliance, with the campuses anticipating the ability to redirect a minimum of 10 percent of their current administrative budgets into instruction and student services, enhancing their respective academic missions.

As acknowledged by the 2013 NACUBO Innovation Award, a new approach built on innovation and continuous improvement is evolving at these forward-looking SUNY institutions. "The national award is a fitting recognition of the innovative collaboration that has taken place between SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton in sharing resources, personnel, and expertise," says Dennis Hefner, interim president, SUNY Potsdam.

SUBMITTED BY Carole Schweitzer, senior editor, Business Officer

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By the Number: Baccalaureate Benefits

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The median earnings of associate's degree holders during their careers is about $259,000 more than earnings of high school graduates. So finds "What's the Value of an Associate's Degree? The Return on Investment for Graduates and Taxpayers," a new report released by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Washington, D.C. Coauthors Jorge Klor de Alva and Mark Schneider analyzed 2010–12 data from the U.S. Department of Education and PayScale Inc. to measure the costs and benefits of an associate's degree.

"Even after factoring in the costs that graduates incur when earning the degree, the associate's degree is a good investment," wrote de Alva, president of Nexus Research and Policy Center; and Schneider, president of College Measures, and an AIR fellow and vice president.

Key findings include the following:

  • Among the top 20 percent of institutions with graduates enjoying the highest return on investment, California led with 44 community colleges; Texas followed with 16; and North Carolina and Alabama each reported 8.
  • Among states with institutions in the bottom 20 percent, Georgia reported 11 colleges; Missouri, 9; California, 7; and Washington, 6.
  • Community colleges with larger concentrations of women students have graduates with lower starting wages. The authors also found that "compared with men, greater proportions of women major in programs of study that tend to offer low pay."


The second annual survey of Americans' attitudes toward higher education's future, "Innovation Imperative: Enhancing Higher Education Outcomes," found mixed feelings among survey respondents when it comes to the ability to prepare graduates for a global workforce and the best ways to accomplish such preparation.

Sponsored by Northeastern University, Boston, the telephone and online survey included the following findings:

  • Most Americans—and particularly business leaders-said it is more important for graduates to be well rounded and possess broader capabilities, such as problem solving and communication skills.
  • Survey participants expressed declining confidence in online education.
  • Americans resolutely believe in the importance of experiential learning for long-term career success.

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Recover Food, Nourish Communities

Fast Fact

American colleges and universities attracted a record number of international students last year, according to the annual Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education. U.S. institutions enrolled 819,644 foreign students last year, led by students from China (236,000) and India (96,795).

With large amounts of food and active student volunteerism, colleges and universities are the perfect places for food rescue, as the Food Recovery Network (FRN) has discovered. Only 3 percent of the estimated 35 million tons of food wasted in the United States each year is donated or composted. The network was established in September 2011 to recover as much of that food as possible, encourage student volunteers to gather the items from a college's dining services, and deliver them to nearby food banks and shelters.

The Food Recovery Network currently supports chapters on eight campuses: the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of California, Berkeley; Pomona College, and Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California; the University of Texas at Austin; and Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and Providence College, all in Providence. Student volunteers spend less than an hour per week doing pickups, with the only expense being the tin trays in which the food is transported—which cost 10 cents per meal.

Since its founding, the network has collected approximately 120,000 pounds of food, which translates into 96,000 meals. For more information about starting a chapter, go to

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