Thursday, July 23, 2009

Perspectives on the Funding Crisis from the SCUP Conference (1)

The 44th Annual Conference of the Society for College and University Planning was overshadowed by a great, gray cloud: the impact of the current recession and college and university funding crisis. Titles of some of the sessions convey this spirit:

• “Dear President Obama – Looking Beyond the Crisis to a New Future for Education in America,” Jonathon Kozol, Plenary Speaker;

• “The College Funding Crisis: Five Ways Planning Can Help,” Philip J. Parsons, Sasaki Architects;

• “Are We Wasting a Perfectly Good Crisis?” George Pernsteiner, Chancellor. Oregon University System; and

• “Maintaining Sustainability Initiatives in Tough Economic Times,” William J. Flynn, Managing Director, Emeritus, National Council for Continuing Education and Training, et al.

Several prevailing perspectives seemed to emanate from the strategic planners, facilities planners, architects, and academic leaders at this conference:

• The building boom in American higher education has surely slowed down, but compared to residential and commercial real estate, higher education construction still is relatively healthy; given the lead time for capital planning, many projects are still “in the pipeline;” but thoughtful leaders are concerned about future prospects;

• The continuing and cascading cycles of budget cuts, rescissions, travel freezes, furloughs, and other financial adjustments have thrown most institutional plans into a cocked hat; financial exigency, short-term fixes and just plain “muddling through” have trumped institutional plans, innovation-driven change and transformative strategy;

• Most leaders have reached some level of comprehension of the fact that the decline in America’s relative standing regarding education and skills outcomes must be reversed, and that our education gaps between different population groups is simultaneously a betrayal of our values and a drain on our competitive position;

• Many leaders can articulate a vision of the desirability of reestablishing financial sustainability, post-recession; they even can describe individual puzzle pieces that may help; but they no conception of the sorts of comprehensive strategies for realigning existing and new initiatives to achieve financial sustainability and restore our competitive standing;

• The next several years are expected to present even tougher decisions as leaders grapple with the challenge of moving beyond the current imperative of “muddling through” and the need to launch the combinations of operational efficiency, innovation, and transformative change necessary to lift us to a higher plane of achioevement.

SCUP is one of the national leaders in sustainability, a theme that pervaded many sessions and hallway conversations at the conference. Most manifestations of sustainability deal with “green” features involving energy, water, and atmosphere. Another important "green" facet of sustainability – financial sustainability – will feature prominently in the continuing conversations in the halls of SCUP conferences and workshops.

Tomorrow’s blog will provide more feedback on analytics, lifting out of recession, and financial sustainability at SCUP.

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