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Business Intel

October 2014


Model-Breaking Innovation

Identified Innovators Coverage of the five NACUBO 2014 Innovation Award recipients begins in this issue. See “Vantage Point,” and look for additional articles in future issues of Business Officer.

It is ironic that organizations with missions that include revolutions in human learning and knowledge are sometimes resistant or slow to embrace innovations in their own operations. 

Yet, change is now constant. Without evolving along with it, traditional universities risk being left behind in what has become a modern and global marketplace for education. 

At the University of Arizona (UA), Tucson, state funding declines, increased competition for students and research dollars, and changing public expectations have sparked UA’s focus to identify opportunities and overcome restrictions that hold back innovation. Embracing a culture of “How can we make that happen?” has garnered positive results in the university’s application of innovative ideas to higher education’s three pillars: academics, research, and public service. 

Promising Prospects

Academics have long been organized along discipline identity. However, some of the most exciting advances in human knowledge are now coming from interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving. 

Students and societyrecognize this, and by demanding more from a college degree—employability, workforce readiness, internship opportunities—they are becoming change agents moving institutions in new directions and seeking a return on the tuition investment. 

Assessing the pulse of students and society can open up numerous possibilities for cross-cutting and novel innovations that break down and rebuild traditional models. 

The university’s program further adapts a teaching model, common throughout the rest of the world, which can reduce the time to degree for highly accomplished students. The new process calls for focusing on applied learning through clinical rotations with distributed partner veterinary practitioners across the state, rather than relying on much more costly veterinary hospital rotations. 

Once accredited, this program could reduce total time and cost for a DVM (doctorate in veterinary medicine) for eligible students by four years and more than $100,000, respectively. 

The lone researcher working on individual specialties is giving way to the rise of collaborative and multidisciplinary teams working on feeding a growing global population, taking mankind to other planets, and obtaining substantial funding grants to support such activities. These teams grow out of a thoughtful and conscious effort to bring together the brightest minds, encourage mutual respect among team members—then charge them with a task and get out of the way. 

This kind of research model has a large up-front cost that may never have a payoff in the form of significant research grants, royalties from inventions or intellectual property, or notoriety for the team and organization. The sole argument for these risk-to-return investments is summed up by American theologian William G.T. Shedd, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” 

An example is the NASA-funded project OSIRIS-REx, begun 10 years ago with the goal of building a spacecraft to fly to an asteroid, extract a sample, and return the sample to Earth. The scientific objectives are profound, and the multiyear budget equally so at just over $800 million. The University of Arizona’s Lunar Planetary Lab was involved from the beginning and has invested in a team approach to develop a pipeline of large space projects in partnership with NASA. 

Without this major and lengthy investment, OSIRIS-REx would have likely been awarded to another university. Although it’s a risk with no guaranteed payoff, only those who make this kind of investment are even considered for major grants.

Innovation in public service can come from simply defining it and measuring its impact. Land grant universities have a ready definition of public service found in the Morrill, Hatch, and Smith-Lever acts. UA’s Jeffrey Silvertooth, associate dean and director, economic development and extension, understands the impact that meaningful outreach activities can have on a community. “Cooperative extension,” he says, “is a defined and measurable engagement with the public to disseminate knowledge and research from the university for the betterment of human health and communities, knowledge transfer, and economic development. This kind of engagement has a transformative impact on society.”

Along those lines, UA’s cooperative extension area is engaging with and educating constituents on issues as diverse as how to eat more nutritious meals, reduce pesticide usage on crops, and improve oral health care. The university records each community engagement and calculates the resulting economic development, which shows a statewide yield of multiple returns on the investments.

A Careful Balance

Advancing new models requires careful analysis. It is easy to become overly cautious and enforcement-oriented, focusing on compliance with applicable laws, industry best practices, and expectations of stewardship. At the same time, risk intolerance can stymie innovation. At the University of Arizona, institution leaders are taking the approach that prudent, well understood, and mission-centric risk is an appropriate action in keeping pace with change. 

SUBMITTED BY Jeffrey Ratje, assistant dean, finance and administration, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson


Why Debt Policy Is a Must

A rich roster of professional development opportunities awaited attendees at the NACUBO 2014 Annual Meeting in Seattle. Here is a snapshot of a session—a teaser for the full coverage that begins on page 36.

How They Did It

In an interactive session, “Best Practices in Debt Management,” speakers discussed why it’s important for institutions to create debt policies.

The Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, formed a policy in 2012 for internal reasons such as better affordability and control, and risk management, said Pamela Currey, associate vice president for finance, and for external reasons including rating agencies, state agencies, and other stakeholders that wanted to know how the university managed its debt.

Jennifer Wagner Davis, senior vice president for administration and finance, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., said the institution, which had a total debt of $672 million, wanted to use its debt policy as an information building block to refocus its priorities. It uses debt as an important funding mechanism for its capital plan and links the use of debt to the university’s mission and strategic goals during periods of growth. 

James Matteo, associate vice president and treasurer, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, said that the debt policy helped the institution create a control framework, establish reporting guidelines, provide answers to upper management, and outline the university’s philosophy. 

The speakers said that it’s important to connect the debt policy to other plans and policies such as the private business use policy, SWAP guidelines, capital plans, liquidity policy, post-issuance compliance policy, the strategic plan, and the budget plan.

While some institutions may opt for a prescriptive debt policy that spells out metrics such as debt service coverage and debt service to operating expenses, others may create a policy that sets guiding principles. 

SUBMITTED BY Preeti Vasishtha, managing editor, Business Officer

Quick Clicks

Status of U.S. Young Adults, 18–24

According to a report by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, young adults are more likely to attend college—but also to have more student debt than past generations and earn less than their counterparts did in the year 2000. In addition, one in five is obese, and many continue to smoke.

Hovering Helps Retention

At the University of Tennessee at Martin, parents have access to a special portal where they can see what courses their children are taking and whether or not they’ve been missing classes. Designed after the student portal, the MYUTMartinParentPortal also alerts hovering parents to any warnings that professors have issued about the behavior or academic performance of their child—along with noting any financial aid paperwork that might be missing.

By The Numbers

Degree Completion Data

Source: Some College, No Degree: A National View of Students With Some College Enrollment, but No Completion.
National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, July 2014