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Business Briefs

Short news articles based on research surveys and peers’ business experiences that can benefit institutions

RESEARCH
Access and Affordability in Difficult Times

Fun Facts About Boston

15.7 M

The number of volumes (books, periodicals, etc.) held by the Boston Public Library, the third-largest library in the nation and the site of the 2009 NACUBO Annual Meeting opening event.

16

The number of historical sites along the Freedom Trail, the 2.5-mile, red-brick historical walking path that begins at the Boston Commons Visitors Center.

193k

Square feet of exhibit space in Boston's John B. Hynes Veterans Convention Center, which hosts the 2009 NACUBO Annual Meeting.

4

The number of U.S. presidents born in Norfolk County, Massachusetts, which includes 28 communities west and south of Boston. The four presidents are: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and George Herbert Walker Bush.

 

Sources: American Library Association; Massachusetts Convention Center Authority Web site; Norfolk County, Massachusetts Web site; and the Freedom Trail Web site.

In its recent report, The Challenge to States: Preserving College Access and Affordability in a Time of Crisis, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education presents a list of recommendations for policymakers, governing boards, and campus and system leaders to preserve college access and affordability. The advice is particularly relevant because, even before the current recession, the nation and most states were struggling to expand opportunities to enroll in and complete higher education, with college affordability having deteriorated substantially for most students and families.

High unemployment increases the need and demand for higher education, as displaced workers seek new skills, while the continuing economic downturn makes it even harder for states to balance budgets. States and their colleges and universities that follow past patterns of responding to revenue shortfalls—by using higher tuition and fee prices to shift the financial burden of paying for college to students and their families—may further exacerbate existing problems.

The recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act represents the opportunity for states to set priorities.
If spent right, a substantial portion of the act's one-time federal funds can be used to reposition higher education in positive ways that support future needs.

A Three-Part Plan

The Challenge to States report suggests that stakeholders who determine the use of federal stimulus funds use the resources to protect access and affordability and to leverage improvements in productivity, efficiency, and quality. Specific actions, including the following, are recommended in three areas:

1. Capacity

  • Admit all eligible students to higher education institutions, using prerecession admission criteria.
  • Require institutions to collaborate and share resources to ensure that all eligible students are served somewhere in the system.
  • Prohibit practices that discourage college participation by at-risk students.
  • Guarantee all qualified community college transfer students admission to a four-year institution.

2. Finance

  • Ensure that any higher education funding cuts do not disproportionately harm colleges and universities with a broad access mission, particularly if those institutions are asked to increase enrollments.
  • Avoid large increases in tuition to replace lost state revenue. Link tuition and fee-setting to family income levels in the state and to the availability of need-based aid.

 3. Productivity

  • Develop measurable expectations for productivity increases by all institutions, and strategies for reinvesting the resulting savings in efforts to maintain and expand undergraduate access and affordability, particularly for low- and middle-income students. Some ways to do this include increasing teaching loads for full-time faculty; freezing or reducing graduate and professional enrollments; streamlining administrative functions; and closing low-demand, high-cost programs that cannot be justified by economic or labor market needs.
  • Reduce student demands on the system by expanding dual enrollment and other accelerated learning options, ensuring course availability for on-time completion, and by limiting credit requirements for degree programs and accumulation of excess credits.

Call to Action

"In the immediate crisis, the leadership of governors, legislatures, and governing boards is critical," the report concludes. "[Leaders] must devise and implement strategies to preserve college opportunity while stimulating innovations to prepare for a future that will require enhanced access, quality, cost-effectiveness, and productivity."

 RESOURCE LINK To access the full report, go to www.highereducation.org, and click on "Access and Affordability" in the left-hand navigation menu.

NACUBO CONTACT Santiago Merea, research associate, 202.861.2596, santiago.merea@nacubo.org.

Spotlight: Small Institutions
Banding Together to Broaden IT Support

Collaboration often results from the search for solutions to common problems. Such was the case for five small colleges in the mid-Atlantic, the leaders of which had all arrived at the same conclusion: For each institution to maintain its own administrative computing system was a waste of resources.

Consequently, in 2001, the five institutions—West Virginia-based Alderson-Broaddus College, Philippi; Davis & Elkins College, Elkins; West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon; and the University of Charleston, Charleston; along with Emory & Henry College, in Emory, Virginia—embarked on an innovative plan to share information technology (IT) support services. They agreed to contract with each other to form a separate 501(c)(3) corporation, the Independent College Enterprise, or ICE, that would provide all five schools with administrative support software. 

Central Location, Common Ground Rules

After reviewing several options, the consortium selected the Datatel Colleague system. The institutions share one copy of the software, which is maintained by ICE's service center located at the University of Charleston. A director and four employees staff the center.

In considering expansion of the consortium to include other small institutions, ICE (www.iceschools.org) agreed to establish a maximum enrollment of 2,000 full-time equivalent students for any new institution accepted to the group.

Two new schools have entered the consortium: my institution, Nichols College in Dudley, Massachusetts, and Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia.

Substantial Savings, Extra Benefits

Savings generated from this arrangement are derived from the following:

  • Lower licensing costs. ICE pays for a single shared software license rather than the institutions paying for seven individual licenses. ICE pays more than the single-school amount, but less than the fee for seven individual schools.
  • Reduced hardware requirements. We purchase a single server for the software rather than seven servers.
  • Need for fewer staff. A staff of five employees runs the service center. At a minimum, each institution would have needed at least one person to run its own system.

Other benefits of this business model include:

  • Efficient conversions. The consortium predetermines the formats for such things as the chart of accounts, student invoices, and transcription documents. However, even with this standardized system, each school is able to customize documents and reports supported by the software.
  • Custom applications. ICE staff supports each school in setting up custom integrations to external applications, such as WebCT and Web site form data collection.
  • General support. The service center provides additional support to handle issues such as new member conversions, system upgrades, and training related to unanticipated turnover.
  • Emergency backup. Nichols College, the only participating institution outside the Virginia-West Virginia area, will become an emergency backup site for ICE later this summer.
  • Additional functionality. Other software packages already have been included in the portfolio maintained by ICE.

Our biggest challenge now is that some schools want to move ahead with new projects, while others don't have the time to pursue such initiatives, such as document imaging. In these instances, we struggle with the best way to move forward when we don't have unanimous support. But, overall, by pooling resources to purchase and maintain their information technology system, the seven small colleges of the ICE consortium have streamlined administrative processes while realizing significant overall savings. Coupled with other benefits of collaboration, this model has gone a long way in increasing service levels to staff and students.

SUBMITTED BY Susan Tellier, vice president, administration, Nichols College, Dudley, Massachusetts
tellier@nichols.edu