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Professional Opinion

Universities thrive when top leaders team up

Collaboration produces financially viable plan focused on student success
University Business, May 2016
Bill Muse is vice president of administration and finance at Schreiner University in Texas.
Bill Muse is vice president of administration and finance at Schreiner University in Texas.

Effective collaboration between administration, academic officers and faculty is crucial for effective leadership at colleges and universities. Enrollment levels, academic freedom, financial viability and student success could all be affected if these individuals don’t team up to develop and implement an effective strategy.

I recently had firsthand experience on how close collaboration between the chief academic and chief financial officers resulted in a successful campuswide initiative. Provost Charlie McCormick and I wanted to actualize the mission and enhance the experiential aspects of Schreiner University’s academic programs by upping the ante on studying abroad, and by increasing internship and service-learning opportunities.

At the same time, getting textbooks in students’ hands was critical as prices had skyrocketed 812 percent over the past 30 years.

We needed to fundamentally change the business model to include textbooks with tuition and fees. After speaking with multiple textbook solution providers we found one that offered a textbook-in-tuition program.

This new program promised to provide substantial cost savings and reduce financial risks while preserving the academic freedom of faculty. With those savings, we could fund a number of experiential programs to enhance our degree while not affecting the total cost of attendance.

Charlie and I created the “Schreiner Experience,” which includes all textbooks—print and digital editions, custom publications, course packs, workbooks, lab manuals, online access codes and courseware. It also comprises other value-driven programs, like study abroad and internships, that help Schreiner students gain an edge in the job market.

Five steps to approval

Here are some steps we took toward successful implementation:

Step 1: Present to the president. We first presented to Schreiner University President Tim Summerlin, and our colleagues in the Cabinet, to get their feedback. That encouraged us to continue the conversation campuswide.

Step 2: Hold planning meetings. Mobilizing the “Schreiner Experience” continued with planning meetings with cabinet members, staff and faculty. Charlie explained the “Schreiner Experience,” while I guided the business model discussion and explained how the university could accomplish everything in a fiscally responsible way.

Step 3: Engage the Faculty. Faculty were concerned that their academic freedom would be threatened, but once they had their questions answered, they were onboard. Faculty realized that they would retain the academic freedom they required, and students would be ready to learn on day one with 100 percent of their course materials.

Step 4: Town halls with students. These interactive Q&A sessions gave everyone a chance to have his or her voice heard. We were making a fundamental change in culture and the business model, so gaining consensus among the stakeholders, executive leadership, staff, faculty, students and parents was critical.

Step 5: Win the board’s approval. This was the final critical step that would pave the way for implementating the program. With a well-outlined plan, solid rationale and consensus among stakeholders campuswide, the board gave its approval.

Making our school more valuable

Since implementing the “Schreiner Experience,” we set a record for enrollment in fall of 2015. Our freshmen retention rate increased 3 percent for our fall 2014 cohort. Additionally, our graduation rate for the 2015 academic year (2011 cohort) was 5 percentage points higher than for the 2014 academic year (2010 cohort).

Looking back, the process was not a simple slam-dunk, and it required a lot of collaboration, energy, commitment and dedication. Working closely with the chief academic officer allowed us to deliver in a big way by increasing the value of a Schreiner education for students and preparing them for success from the first day to graduation and beyond.

Bill Muse is vice president of administration and finance at Schreiner University in Texas.

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