It’s Time to Transform Your University

By Paul Friga, Ph.D. March 8, 2021 May 11th, 2021 Blog Post

Opinions expressed in AGB blogs are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the institutions that employ them or of AGB.

Paul N. Friga, PhD, Senior Consultant, Practice Area Leader: Strategic Transformation of Public Higher Education

Paul Friga, PhD, is our AGB Consulting practice area leader for strategic transformation of public higher education and the clinical associate professor of strategy at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Many institutions are assessing the need for transformation, especially given the impact of COVID-19.  What I know is that the need for transformation is even greater than you may have hypothesized.

The situation is dire.

Each year, $604 billion is spent in higher education in the U.S.  More than 4,000 institutions fight for students, market share, and sustainable operations.  State and local governments have traditionally provided close to $300 million in support.  Higher education was in a tough situation even before COVID-19 with decreasing available traditional high school graduates, new demands from current students, increased accountability from government, and decreases in local and state funding.  COVID-19 exacerbated these issues and my prediction, based upon my recent research, is that we stand to lose $183 billion from higher education resources over a two-year period and universities are losing an average of 14 percent in revenue.  It is clearly time for major change to not only survive this crisis but thrive in the long term.

An action-oriented board task force is the needed solution.

I work with boards to set up action-oriented board task forces, chaired by the president and/or board chair, and consisting of the finance chair and five select board members who bring the right skills to the table.  I meet with the board task force weekly, and we include the key members of the president’s cabinet (president, provost, CFO, and possibly the CHRO) and develop new “transformation priorities” with special goals, initiatives, and owners tied to the customized needs to bring the institution forward.  Time is of the essence, and we move quickly to make major short-term and long-term moves to position the institution for success.

Below is a starting point of potential priorities, and we move quickly from theoretical scenario planning to actual action:

  • Articulate clear strategy.
  • Identify Prosperity Gap.
  • Right-size programs/faculty.
  • Streamline administration.
  • Grow enrollments.
  • Invest in research.
  • Launch capital campaign.

Help from AGB.

I am the AGB Consulting practice area leader for Strategic Transformation of Public Higher Education and stand by to discuss the above points in more detail, share the underlying data, and explore options to make the changes necessary to successfully transform your university for the long term. I am available to schedule an hour call, at no cost, to review your situation— Additionally, you may want to review my recent article and video on this topic in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Given the urgency of the times, I am hosting a new, special AGB monthly workshop program exclusively for board members and presidents.  Our first workshop, which is related to better understanding the need for transformation in public higher education, is scheduled for March 31 at 2:00 pm.  I encourage you to register now to attend.  You will hear new information, receive templates for action, and have a chance to discuss ideas with peers from universities and colleges of similar size and type. Our special guests for that workshop will be President Michael Crow and Board Member Fred DuVal of Arizona State University, one of the most innovative universities in the country.

We have an upcoming AGB webinar to address the need for transformation and action plans thereof on March 9 at 2:00 pm–register here.   I will also be hosting an even more interactive Ask the Expert session to openly discuss the need for transformation and share examples on March 23 at 1:00 pm—register here. For more articles and videos on suggested strategies, visit here.

The situation is challenging for sure.  But we can overcome it and your institution can not only survive but thrive. I know it!




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