Quality Endeavors Issue No. 105 November 2007

Current Planning and Innovation in Higher Education

Each summer at the annual conference of the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education (NCCI), participating colleges and universities share information about their initiatives in planning, assessment, improvement, and innovation. This issue of the newsletter features the initiatives shared by three universities at the 8th NCCI conference in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 26 – 28, 2007:

  • University of Kentucky’s use of a business plan to advance the standing of the University and increase state appropriation by 350 percent
  • University of Virginia’s development of institutional performance measures to monitor performance and aid in making decisions
  • University of California, Berkeley’s development of a tool for continuity planning now available nationwide at no charge to institutions of higher education

All three worked with state or federal government to leverage resources. Information from these three and most other conference presentations can be found on the NCCI Web site.

The University of Kentucky recently received a 350 percent increase in its state funding. Lee T. Todd, Jr., University of Kentucky President, described how the University was able to accomplish this. The initiative started in 1997 when the University reached an agreement with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to become one of the top 20 universities in the country. The University focused on their responsibility to the state of Kentucky, which is below national average in median household income and percentage of residents holding a bachelor’s degree, and above average in the rate of poverty. States that are home to one of the top 20 universities have populations with more education, healthier children, lower unemployment, and fewer people living in poverty.

Analysis in 2004 indicated that the University’s plan to reach this goal was not focused enough and progress was slow. While Kentucky raised its six year graduation rate from 48% to 60% from 1997 to 2004, in that same time frame the graduation rate of the university ranked 20th rose from 68% to 72%. For the same time frame, while Kentucky’s federal research expenditures rose from $62 million to $120 million, those of the 20th ranked university rose from $104 million to $193 million. In seven years, Kentucky was able to move only from a rank of 40th to 35th. This rate of progress was not satisfactory, and thus the University decided to develop their Top 20 Business Plan.

The Top 20 Business Plan developed in 2005 included growth targets for the year 2020 for students (undergraduate, graduate, and post doctoral), faculty, research expenditures, and bachelor’s and doctoral degrees granted. Growth was needed to educate more of the students of Kentucky, and prepare the workforce of Kentucky for success in a knowledge economy. Included in the plan were collaborative research projects that would involve K-12 education, health care, economic development, the environment, and quality of life. The focus of the Top 20 Business Plan was the financial costs of reaching these goals, and the return on the investments. Once these costs were determined, the plan was presented in 22 cities, to audiences including prospective students, community leaders, media, and legislators. As a result of this Top 20 Business Plan approach, the final legislative appropriation for 2007-2008 was over four times that for 2006-2007.

Following the development of the Top 20 Business Plan, the University developed its strategic plan for 2006-2009. The strategic plan addresses goals for excellence, measures of quality, and resource allocation, and has five goals that align with the business plan:

  1. Enhance the University’s stature among its peers
  2. Prepare students for leadership in the knowledge economy and global society
  3. Enhance the intellectual capital of Kentucky through growth in research
  4. Nurture and embrace diversity
  5. Engage Kentuckians through partnerships to elevate quality of life

More information can be found on the University of Kentucky Web site.


Sarah Collie, University of Virginia Assistant Vice President for Management and Budget and Director of State Governmental Relations, described their work over the past few years to develop institutional performance measures. In 2005, the Commonwealth of Virginia, as part of a plan to provide increased financial independence from the state budgeting system for the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute, established three levels of autonomy for all public colleges and universities within the state. Each level of autonomy has specific requirements for institutional planning and performance, including goals related to access, affordability, graduation rates, economic development, and enhancement of K-12 education. As part of the implementation of that plan, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), working with the University, developed measures for academic performance, including measures related to enrollment, student debt, program review, course access, degrees awarded, and research. To be certified for the highest level of autonomy, the University of Virginia also established measures in the areas of capital outlay, leases and real estate, finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, and procurement and surplus property.

To accomplish this, the University appointed a Special Committee on Planning to develop a ten-year financial and strategic plan, including appropriate measures. There were two goals: first, to provide high-level measures that the University’s Board of Visitors could use to monitor performance and progress; and, secondarily, to provide additional measures that could inform managerial decision making. Financial planning was expanded from a six year to a ten year range. Key financial policies were reviewed and enterprise-wide risk analysis was completed. The team reviewed data already collected (collecting historical data for ten years when possible), and benchmarked with other institutions (collecting comparable peer data when possible).

There were many lessons learned in developing the measures. The initial work was laborious, and data rich but information poor. Shared ownership of the process and linking measures to goals strengthened the process. There was a need to differentiate between input and output measures, and also include outcome measures. Another challenge was to account for institutional context and deal with unique measures which had no peer data. A summary tool such as a dashboard can be beneficial, as can be identifying a critical few measures. Finally, universities always need to be ready to (re)evaluate whether they are developing or using the right measures.

Both the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) performance standards and the University of Virginia performance measures can be found on their Web sites.


How could the University of California, Berkeley be able to continue in the University’s mission despite adverse events, or to resume functions within 30 days if interrupted? Ron Coley, Associate Vice Chancellor of Business and Administrative Services, and Paul Dimond, Manager, Office of Business Resumption, both at the University of California, Berkeley, explained how Berkeley addressed this question, resulting in an online tool developed at Berkeley and available nationwide to institutions of higher education. While Berkeley had been involved in disaster management for 30 years, with actions including an emergency operations center, remote servers, and a PeopleLocator web site, in 2004 they began a more structured approach to business continuity planning. In this approach three focuses of disaster management were identified:

  1. Prevention and mitigation before the event
  2. Response to control the crisis after the event
  3. Recovery to continue the mission after the event

Early analysis indicated a tool would be needed to address these areas and accomplish the goal of continuing services or resuming services within 30 days.

Berkeley requested a grant from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to develop this tool, with the agreement that the final product would be available to all institutions of higher education at no cost. The tool is a Web-based questionnaire, completed at the departmental or unit level. It focuses on performing critical functions with diminished resources, and applies to all types of disaster. Department and unit plans are combined to form a college, division, or budget unit plan. Combined college, division, or budget unit plans merge to produce a campus-wide query-able database. This makes it possible to determine at which level of responsibility action items and gaps should be addressed. Additionally, at Berkeley, development of the department plans led to review of department procedures and process improvement. As of July 2007, the tool had been downloaded by 60 schools.

More information and the actual tool are available on the University of California, Berkley Web site.

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