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.