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Celebrating Innovation

Inspiration from the 2010 Innovation Awards

By Margo Vanover Porter

*Impressed by the quantity and quality of the entries, judges in the 2010 Innovation Awards competition believe the recession may have ignited sparks of creativity among the nation's institutions.

"The recession, which has led to numerous budget cuts over the years, has forced many colleges and universities to work smarter and much harder," says Gaye Manning, one of the judges and the vice chancellor for finance and administration, Southern Arkansas University Tech, Camden. Manning is also a former NACUBO board chair. "We are all looking for creative and innovative ways to address challenges on our campuses with the ultimate goal of cost savings and enhanced efficiencies.... I think these hard times are forcing us to place more priority on productivity and reduced costs."

Mary Jo Maydew, who recently rotated off as chair of the judging committee after four years of service, agrees that the economy has forced institutions to watch their spending habits. "The recession certainly intensified a school's need to find budget savings," says Maydew, who is vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts. "That's really a long-term goal for most institutions."

However, she points out that many projects in the 2010 competition focused on reducing carbon footprints, managing energy costs, and dealing with green energy alternatives, in part because that's an area where innovation is occurring. "Certainly, energy management can save money, but we were seeing that trend before the recession."

Richard Spies is another judge who believes the economic downturn might turn out to be the mother of invention. "Some of the projects we saw would not have been pushed as hard without the resource constraints of the recession," he says.

 "By necessity, people have gotten more innovative," says Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior advisor to the president, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. "The decision makers have become more willing to take risks in support of innovation because they are facing significant resource constraints and are looking for ways to do it without cutting programs. They can't afford to be quite as cautious."

Throwing caution to the wind, seven institutions introduced their latest and greatest ideas during the 2010 Innovation Awards, capturing the top honors. This month, Business Officer begins a multipart series featuring interviews with each of the recipients. Read the first interview, "Get Down to the Grass Roots."   

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, is writing the articles in the "Elegant Solutions" series. She covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

It Could Be Your Turn to Shine

"Sharing information primes the pump," insists Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior advisor to the president, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. "NACUBO's innovation program is a great example of that, connecting you to a network of people and idea sharing."

Spies, who will be a judge in this year's competition, urges you to start planning your entries for the 2011 competition, which annually honors the business and financial administration achievements of higher education institutions in two areas:

  • Process improvement. Explain how you successfully reengineered or designed a program, improving the service delivery of an administrative activity in response to a campus need.
  • Resource enhancement. Document how your institution reduced costs, increased revenues, or improved productivity in response to a campus need.

"It's important for our public to know that NACUBO and its member institutions care about being innovative, they care about programs that increase cost-effectiveness, and they care about making progress in environmental stewardship," says Mary Jo Maydew, a former judge. Maydew is the vice president for finance and administration and treasurer,
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts.

The competition, in its fifth year, helps build credibility for institutions, says Spies. "It helps demonstrate to the larger world—which includes policy makers and families who write checks—that colleges and universities are constantly working to improve both the quality of what we do and the cost-effectiveness of what we do."

Judges in this year's competition will select Innovation Award recipients from a nationwide pool of candidates in each of NACUBO's primary membership segments: community colleges, comprehensive and doctoral institutions, research universities, and small institutions. Recipients will be recognized during the NACUBO 2011 Annual Meeting to be held in July in Tampa.

To be eligible, an applicant must be a NACUBO regular member institution, and the NACUBO primary representative must endorse the application. Your application should include a narrative that does not exceed three double-spaced pages. You may submit multiple entries.

The deadline for entries is April 1. For more information, send an email to Kristin Witters, manager of member services.