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Barriers Falling

The higher education world has been talking about breaking down silos for years. SCUP-42 put integration on display.
University Business, Oct 2007

SANDRA STARKE STOOD AT THE FRONT OF A small conference room in Chicago and appealed for consideration from a room full of student services, admissions, and finance administrators. She asked not for consideration of her, but for consideration of each other.

To exemplify her point, Starke, who is vice provost of Enrollment Management at the State University of New York at Binghamton, described how -led by the university president- administrators at her university worked to move up the annual budgeting process so that allocations for the next fiscal year would be decided at the beginning of the current year. The university implemented a process in which deans and department heads are involved in fiscal and enrollment planning, and an academic business plan is required for every new program proposal.

Starke also told how admissions and student services officers at Binghamton were asked to think about the financial impact of their work. "You bring in 80 percent of the budget to the institution," she said about admissions departments, "and that's got to be on your mind at every point."

Are these cross-departmental (some might say cross-cultural) strategies nontraditional? Yes. Challenging to execute? Sure. Smart? Definitely. "It facilitates the strategic conversations needed," Starke said of the advanced budgeting timeline.

The Society for College and University Planning's annual conference, held in Chicago in July, offered dozens of such examples of integrated planning, connected departments, multipurpose buildings, linked institutions, and collaborative partnerships. The "Shaping the Academic Landscape: Integrated Solutions" conference highlighted green building, strategies for health, science, and technology centers, and ideas for community colleges. The conference gathered 1,557 attendees (more than any past SCUP conference) as well as 117 exhibitors, all with a focus on academic planning, facilities planning, and resource and budget planning.

Getting a slot to present at SCUP-42 was more competitive than getting published in many scholarly journals, according to Terry Calhoun, director of Media Relations and Publications. The society received 235 proposals for sessions and accepted only 72. Attendees learned that by fostering connections, integrating planning, and developing partnerships, they could compete in the higher education marketplace.

In a plenary session packed with resources and ideas, education author, consultant, and former college administrator Mark Milliron discussed the catalytic conversations that administrators at every college and university should engage in to keep their institutions moving forward.

Milliron, president of Catalyze Learning International and former director of the National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development at the University of Texas at Austin, said top decision makers are missing opportunities because they are too focused on traditional priorities. "We can miss huge issues when they are right in front of us, and it gets worse when we are focused on a mission," Milliron explained after showing a video of two teams of people throwing a ball in a room. (The audience was asked to focus on how many passes each team completed; those who most closely counted the passes were also most likely to miss the fact that a person dressed in a gorilla costume walked right through the middle of the game.)

Milliron went on to discuss how for institutions, the idea of fixed enrollment patterns is outdated. Many community colleges, for instance, put a two-year degree schedule in their marketing materials despite the fact that the vast majority of students at these institutions do not complete degrees in a two-year timeframe. Students no longer pass through institutions once, Milliron noted. Rather, they come through in swirls as they complete degrees, attain new job skills, change careers, and further develop their abilities. "They are swirling in once, and then they come back, and come back, and come back," he said.

Milliron's other catalytic conversations focused on the impact of globalization on institutions; the need for partnerships; improving advancement by pulling together various departments in the institution; new opportunities and challenges involving technology; leadership; and undertaking initiatives that take institutions into new territory and make a clear difference.

If integration and collaboration are taking higher ed into the future, then technology is the grease in the wheels. Milliron illuminated this theme-present throughout many conversations at SCUP-42-by explaining how gaming is a necessary presence on campus not just as a degree area but as a teaching tool and avenue for student engagement.

Milliron pointed to the Serious Games Initiative, which is forging links between the electronic game industry and projects involving the use of games in education, training, health, and public policy. He also noted "America's Army," the U.S. Army's virtual army experience that engages recruits and provides online collaboration before boot camp begins. Some higher ed institutions are now using online games for student orientation, Milliron added.

BIM, or Building Information Modeling, also generated buzz throughout the conference as a promising application in the building realm. A new generation of software that goes further than AutoCad, BIM programs include Revit from Autodesk and Archi-CAD from Graphisoft. The application creates virtual plans that are linked to data files, so that each object in the plan (essentially a digital drawing) is loaded with information.

Through BIM, architects, construction companies, institutional clients, and other partners in a project team can access the application and click on objects to learn more about such things as material needed, cost, and impact on surrounding objects. Since it approximates a virtual finished product, BIM helps team members foresee actual problems and therefore collaborate early in the design process to develop solutions.

Richard Bowen, associate vice president for Administration and Finance at Northern Arizona University, explained how BIM was put to use during a building boom at the university's Sedona campus. The projects at NAU required a fast development cycle, and planners needed tools that allowed for quick decision making and acknowledgment of budget constraints considering the high cost of construction these days.

As Bowen noted, BIM helped project teams at NAU avoid planning, budgeting, and construction problems. While it required a time and financial investment, it allowed team members to visualize and experience each project from conception through design.

"At the beginning, you are going to spend more money, more time, more sweat, long hours, and face culture changes," said Michael Alan LeFevre, director of Planning and Design Support Services at Holder Construction Company. "But every single person who has gone through this with us has not wanted to go back."

"It's a partially fulfilled promise at this time, but it really is happening," said co-presenter Michael Patrick, associate/design director at the international architecture firm Gensler. "This is where we're going."

If conversations at SCUP-42 were any indicator, successful administrators need to open their minds and stretch their thinking beyond current norms and processes. Case in point: Libraries, it seems, are no longer just libraries (even the word itself might become outdated).

Several presenters explained that for campus libraries to remain relevant, they must no longer be seen just as repositories for books and resources, or even as spaces for student groups to meet. Libraries of today and tomorrow should be multi-use and provide space for academic offices, classes, and campus events.

At Washington and Lee University (Va.), the Leyburn Library has been targeted for renovation in part because it has become a problem, not a source of pride, according to Joseph Grasso, the university's vice president for Administration who is departing for Cornell this fall.

The library at Washington and Lee has several issues: It disperses people instead of bringing them together, it is dark, and it is not particularly attractive. It has not been a stop for student tour groups.

Aiming to bring the building in line with the rest of the campus, administrators and the university architect at Washington and Lee have embarked on plans to integrate core principles of the campus master plan into the academic library. Plans include adding space to the library and revising its offerings and functions. This process is currently underway, with an emphasis on more shared study space, an indoor/outdoor caf?, smart classrooms, conference space, academic learning offices and classrooms, a lecture room/auditorium, writing center, a multimedia lab, and computing offices.

Grasso's co-presenters-Thomas Contos, the university's architect, and Stephen Johnson, consulting and founding principal with Pfeiffer Partners-also noted that libraries are evolving nationwide. (When asked how many audience members were engaged in new library building or renovation projects, about 40 people raised their hands.) On some campuses, more staff are coming under the umbrella of top administrative positions such as chief information officer and provost for information services.

Making library buildings into more collaborative, shared knowledge centers-while respecting the needs and staff of the library-may even help garner funding for projects.

Expanded, joint-use libraries encompass several different functions and therefore affect more students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members.

While planning on campus must bring various partners together, students should be at the core of considerations. At Ohlone College (Calif.), administrators partnered with Apple, Steelcase, and Stanford University to implement a prototype classroom that could bolster student learning and satisfaction. Presenters shared their ideas and lessons with SCUP attendees.

As a community college in Fremont, Calif., serving 18,000 students a year, Ohlone must meet the needs of a variety of learners, including adults who juggle jobs, school, and family. The prototype classroom was developed with the guiding principle that physical environments directly affect learning and should therefore give students the best possible opportunities for achievement. "In a community college, it is especially important to us that students are successful," said co-presenter Douglas Treadway, president of Ohlone. "We are compensating for some negatives. We have an at-risk population that we're trying hard to engage."

'You bring in 80 percent of the budget to the institution and that's got to be on your mind at every point.' -Sandra Starke, SUNY Binghamton

In an interactive session that asked participants to consider the impact of the conference room on their feelings and learning outcomes, project partners on the Ohlone prototype explained that the benefits of new types of classrooms far outweigh the investments required. Students who took classes in the prototype room "felt much closer to the faculty," said Leta Stagnaro, dean at Ohlone. Treadway added that while developing high-impact physical environments costs money, "there is a rapid return on investment if we retain students."

Next year the college will open the Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology. All of the new campus's classrooms were designed with lessons from the prototype in mind.

Caryn Meyers Fliegler is a contributing writer and former associate editor for University Business.

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