Facilities / auxiliary services / sustainability

Through the Looking Glass: Visions and Planning for the Future of Higher Education

Date: 
Sun, 10/20/2013 to Tue, 10/22/2013

Location

1330 Eisenhower Pl
48108 Ann Arbor
United States

Colleges can't wait for systemic reform, must make changes now (essay)

The world still comes to the United States for higher education. Our elite institutions are the best in the world. Historically, we have done a better job of providing quality education to tens of millions of people than almost any other country on earth.

Yet we’re slipping. Simply put, our graduation rates are too low, our costs are too high, and too many students are slipping through the cracks. Reformers -- and universities themselves -- grasp these realities and want wholesale changes that will fundamentally alter how we think about higher education.

Those long-term battles are important, even necessary. New innovations in distance learning and nontraditional degrees may provide new pathways for students. But such changes may take decades. In the meantime, we have millions of college students taking on ever-higher debt loads for a long, winding road to a degree.  We need to make immediate changes to affirmatively lower costs – not just “increase affordability” – while we raise graduation rates.  We need to work within the existing framework to do what we’re already doing, but do it better and cheaper.

The good news is we have proven methods to improve our efficiency and outcomes at our postsecondary institutions.

Take student costs. Conventional wisdom focuses on high tuition costs, but there’s a related problem that’s often overlooked. Graduating from college takes most students five or even six years, while they are planning for four. That ends up an extra 25 to 50 percent in tuition costs alone, not to mention college-related fees and the opportunity cost of not working.

Institutions can directly reduce time to degree. Recent data show that “bottleneck courses,” i.e., courses where student demand outstrips available seats, play a big role in delaying degree completion.

To put it in human terms, a student who needs Biology 201 to graduate – when a seat in Biology 201 isn’t available until next year – is wasting time and money.  That dynamic is why “access to courses” consistently ranks as the biggest student complaint about higher education, according to the Noel-Levitz annual student satisfaction survey (subscription required).

The fix is relatively straightforward: offer those bottleneck courses more often. Just 5 to 10 percent of courses are responsible for the vast majority of bottlenecks, so colleges and universities can address the shortages quickly. For instance, they can ensure that their most valuable resources -- professors -- are teaching the right mix of courses to prevent bottlenecks, rather than spending limited resources on course offerings that are not needed (15-20 percent of a typical school’s schedule). Similarly, colleges can better align schedules so students don’t have to choose between two required courses, and can make sure room size is aligned to corresponding course demand.

“Quickly” is the key concept in this fix – we can save students hundreds of millions of dollars every year starting immediately.  We don’t need to wait a decade, or even a year.

Addressing bottleneck courses is one of the clearest examples of changes we can make to address the problems in higher education immediately, but it is far from the only one.  The two below, for instance, lead to real savings right away, but are easy to overlook:

  • Extensive data show that better allocation of academic space – i.e., which courses are scheduled in which classrooms at which times – is an overlooked yet vital cost issue. Better allocation of classroom resources – identifying and addressing primetime bottlenecks by focusing on room ownership, meeting pattern efficiency and last-minute cancellation, etc. – can postpone or even cancel entire expensive classroom construction projects.  (Full disclosure: Ad Astra Information Systems, where Tom Shaver serves as CEO, are providing university leaders with data-based solutions that help them make these important resource allocation decisions.)
  • College bookstores can adopt software enabling students to take advantage of economies of scale and get their expensive textbooks for vastly reduced costs (One of us wrote an op-ed on this subject in The Hill).

There are, of course, hundreds of other solutions we can adopt right away. These solutions represent just a few ideas that directly address the nuts and bolts of providing courses to thousands of students on a single campus. These solutions aren’t glamorous. They’ll never make the front page of The New York Times or be the subject of a TED talk. 

Yet they are key operational concerns that save real money. One large community college in the Northeast better aligned its faculty and classroom resources to offer more of the most oversubscribed courses, allowing it to enroll hundreds more students without committing new funding.  All told, it improved its balance sheet by over $1.7 million in a single year. A community college system in the Midwest took a similar approach and has improved its fiscal outlook by almost $3 million in just three years. Multiply those figures by the approximately 3,000 institutions of higher education in this country, and you are looking at tremendous savings for students – and for institutions.

Will these changes singlehandedly fix the deep-seated and complicated fiscal issues afflicting our higher education system? Probably not. But can these solutions -- and others like them -- vastly improve the higher education experience for both students and institutions?  There is no question they can.

In an era defined by a $16 trillion federal debt and states across the country struggling with multibillion-dollar shortfalls, we are going to see an unfortunate but inevitable reduction in government funding for higher education.  Colleges are facing this reality today.  They cannot afford to wait for next-generation solutions. They need this-generation solutions. Millions of students’ futures depend on it.

Gene Hickok is the former deputy U.S. secretary of education and a senior adviser at Whiteboard Advisors; Tom Shaver is CEO of Ad Astra Information Systems, a company using data mining technology to help colleges and universities improve student access and lower costs.

Editorial Tags: 

SCUP 2013 North Central One-Day:

Date: 
Thu, 06/13/2013

Location

Columbus State Community College
43215 Columbus, Ohio
United States

Diary of a snowstorm (essay)

2 p.m.

Dear Campus Community,

I imagine you have heard by now that the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning, noting the possibility of considerable snowfall for our region beginning this evening. However, because of differing weather models, which call for anywhere from a dusting to more than a foot, we cannot accurately predict the university’s course of action at this time. This might amount to only a minor weather event.

We will make an announcement regarding tomorrow’s classes and operations by 6 a.m. Please stay tuned for email updates.

Thank you for your attention. Enjoy your evening.

Best wishes,

Jack Valtraides
Acting Director of Campus Safety, Facilities Management, Transportation and Emerging Auxiliary Enterprises


***

3:40 p.m.

Dear Campus Community,

Updated Weather Service models are predicting more significant snowfall than earlier reports. Some are calling for upwards of a foot of snow. Still, there is a very good chance that this storm will amount to only a modest total, so we can assume for now that classes and operations will be on a normal schedule tomorrow.

Thank you for your patience.

Best,

Jack Valtraides
Acting Director of Campus Safety, Facilities Management, Transportation and Emerging Auxiliary Enterprises


***

4:15 p.m.

Dear Colleagues,

As you can see, the snow has already begun, well ahead of predictions. This may indicate that snow totals will exceed projections or, perhaps, that the storm will depart the area earlier than expected.

Again, we will update you regularly regarding campus operations and tomorrow’s schedule.

Please drive home safely.

Best,

Jack Valtraides

 

***

 

6 p.m.

Everyone,

We now have approximately two inches of snowfall and are bracing for a major event. The latest Doppler model suggests we may experience as much as 12-18 inches by morning. But hey, this is New England, and we hearty types are used to it. Typical winter around these parts.

Please stay tuned for updates and possible cancellation notices.

Jack Valtraides


***

8:15 p.m.

Folks,

A quick storm update. Snowfall totals are now predicted to exceed two feet. Visibility is zero, and major highways are closed. Looks like I’m stuck here on campus for the duration. At least I’ll be able to attend to emergencies should they arise. I bet those of you who made it home are happy.

Jack


***

9:50 p.m.

Hey, people.

The storm brought down a small tree, which hit a transformer and knocked out power to campus. Normally, utility crews would already be on the scene, but it’s just too darn sloppy out there. Repairs will have to wait until at least the morning. Thanks to generators, some buildings are running with limited power. Still, it’s plenty cold in my office, in case you care.

Jack


***

11:18 p.m.

Hey.

The blizzard rages on, and I’m still freezing. It’s not like I can sleep, anyway, because I don’t have a cot in my office. Even the groundskeeper from "Rudy" had a cot, for cripes sake. So I’ve spent a good bit of time wandering through the semi-lit academic buildings for kicks and giggles. By God, those faculty offices are a wicked mess. What’s wrong with you people? How about spending some of your ample free time (like, you know, the whole summer) tidying things up? Would it kill you?

Dang it’s cold in here. Maybe some of you who lost power know what I’m talking about.

Jack


***

1:03 a.m.

Nothing much going on except a few crazy frat boys running around half naked throwing snowballs at each other. Must be smashed. Bet their parents are really proud. Rite of passage, my keister. In my day, the only rite of passage was joining the Marines. Today’s generation? A bunch of spoiled, self-important brats. Hey, but they pay our salaries, right?

In case anyone gives a damn, we still haven’t made a decision about tomorrow’s classes and work schedules. Yeah, as if you’re all awake reading this.

Did I tell you dilettantes how friggin’ cold it is in here?

J


***

3:12 a.m.

So I managed to scrounge up a small space heater, which is barely enough to keep my toes warm. But heck, who am I to complain? I have a steady job, and I make a decent living serving you people. Oh yeah, I make the big bucks and have the plush office and perks like you upper management geeks. Not. Hope you’re warm and snuggly in your McMansions, dreaming of your ski trips and fancy dinners and “conferences” in exotic places. I’ll just stick around here and take care of campus. No worries. Sleep tight.

And for the record, we still haven’t heard about tomorrow’s schedule. Are we closed? Can anyone make a decision?


***

4:31 a.m.

Anybody awake yet? Are we closed or not? (As if we don’t know.) No, let’s give it another hour and a half. Maybe by then the sun will be shining and it’ll be 70 degrees, and the birds will be singing and sugar plum fairies will be prancing around campus. And I won’t be stuck here anymore, freezing my hind to the bone. Yup, I’ll wait. I have nothing better to do.

Have I told you how much I love this place?


***

5:57 a.m.

Dear Campus Community,

Due to the severity of the overnight snow storm, the university will be closed today. All classes are canceled. Essential personnel should report to work as scheduled. Please stay tuned for additional email messages, and be sure to consult the university’s website for updates.

On a personal note, it’s been a pleasure keeping everyone apprised of our situation during the night. I enjoyed working with each and every one of you over the past couple of years, and I wish you all the best. I am officially announcing my retirement and heading to Boca.

All this is someone else’s problem now. God I hate snow.

Yours,

Jack Valtraides
Former Acting Director of Campus Safety, Facilities Management, Transportation and Emerging Auxiliary Enterprises

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, Special Edification.

Editorial Tags: 

Emerging Forces in Campus Planning

Date: 
Thu, 03/07/2013

Location

Marshall Student Center, Room 2708 University of South Florida
33620 Tampa, Florida
United States

Voters approve bond measures for college facilities

Smart Title: 

Voters in New Jersey and in several community college districts approve measures.

Green Mountain College debates plan to slaughter oxen

Smart Title: 

Green Mountain College says it will live by its philosophy of sustainability when it kills two beloved campus oxen, and serves their meat in the dining hall. Many students and alumni are horrified.

Global, Local, or ‘Glocal’: Identity for Higher Education in an International Context

Date: 
Wed, 05/01/2013 to Fri, 05/03/2013

Location

Montreal, Quebec
Canada

Ball State use of eminent domain spotlights rare but potent tool of state universities

Smart Title: 

Ball State could use eminent domain to develop a property near its campus, turning attention to a little used but highly contentious power held by public institutions.

SCUP's 48th Annual International Conference

Date: 
Sat, 07/27/2013 to Wed, 07/31/2013

Location

San Diego Convention Center
San Diego, California
United States

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