When I was asked by the EACUBO 100th Anniversary committee to write an article focused on how EACUBO facilitates collaboration and shared problem-solving, I began it the “EACUBO way” – I asked my colleagues and friends for their ideas. In other words, we collaborated. This is a behavior I learned early in my higher education career.
My career in higher education began when I accepted a position at Hampshire College in 1984. I recently retired after many years at Dartmouth College. I first came to higher education from a public utility, and, to say the least, it was a very different world. I was extraordinarily lucky when I accepted Alan Torrey’s offer to go to Hampshire—first, because Hampshire is a part of the Five College Consortium. This arrangement provided me with instant colleagues in similar roles at other institutions. Second, because Alan believed in EACUBO, I began attending EACUBO events like the annual workshop and the annual meeting, and soon I became more involved as a volunteer in the organization.
At EACUBO, I found institutional leaders, colleagues, and counterparts from colleges and universities from across the East Coast. What was extraordinary about these colleagues, and so different from the utility industry, was their willingness to share their ideas, best practices, skills, and expertise. People who I met in a tax update session or hanging around a high-top table at an opening reception willingly gave of their time and experience.
My EACUBO involvement led to my participating on a few committees for NACUBO, and thus my circle expanded further. I suddenly knew people not just on the East Coast that I could contact to get an opinion on an issue, but business officers at schools across the nation. What an extraordinary thing to know that you don’t always have to come up with “the answer!” Sometimes someone else has already found that answer, and sometimes the answer is developed as you talk, banter, jointly problem solve, and work through the matter in order to create a new and better solution that was developed in concert with talented colleagues from other institutions.
And this experience is not just mine. Lynne Schaefer, former EACUBO and NACUBO Board Chair, shared these thoughts:
“Being with other business officers at an EACUBO event is a sure antidote to the feeling of ‘other’ we often experience on our campuses. At EACUBO, I have found colleagues who listen, empathize, and share their own pains and triumphs because we are often experiencing the same on our campuses. We put our heads together to solve tough problems faced by our institutions, and we share successes in detail so we can take the ideas back to our institutions to bring higher value to our roles. Some specific ideas I have brought back to my campus from an EACUBO event include alternative budget models, new ways to think about P3s, outsourcing strategies, and how to communicate financial information more effectively. The collaboration around solutions to problems and ways to advance higher education that happens at EACUBO events is a great value to all of us, including fellow business officers, business partners, other campus leaders, and young professionals looking to advance in their business office careers.”
While the Five Colleges Consortium is one of the early examples of collaboration in higher education, others have followed. Founded in 2009, the Upstate New York College Collaboration (UNYCC) is a diverse group of 19 institutions that was first focused on finance-related initiatives. The group has expanded its vision to incorporate collaboration initiatives across the member institutions focused on three “pillar” goal areas: Student Success, Campus Optimization, and Leadership Development. A more recent initiative is the Green Mountain Higher Education Consortium. This is a group comprised of three Vermont colleges with a goal to create and foster collaborative endeavors. The initial projects moving them toward their goals of reducing administrative costs and improving services are the implementation of both an information system for advancement and a separate cloud-based ERP for human resources, finance, and potentially student records.
Among other examples of EACUBO member institutions collaborating closely with nearby and peer institutions, the schools in each of the collaborative ventures referenced above are also EACUBO members. At the heart of EACUBO’s members, you will commonly find a collaborative spirit. EACUBO fosters, enhances, and creates venues for meaningful opportunities through its regional and local meeting attendance, via information sharing on the website and through involvement in the organization itself, which facilitates robust collaboration between member institutions and valued business partners. Our members are doing great things, and they are helping to shape the business of higher education administration into the future.
The power that comes from pooling ideas, energy, processes, and resources makes it possible for institutions to do things together that they might not otherwise achieve individually. In a NACUBO Business Officer article, Patrick Richey, UNYCC president and vice president for finance and administration at Nazareth College, discussed the challenges facing our industry and the need for collaboration. He said:
“The opportunities and challenges facing higher education have never been more acute. We face questions about the value of higher education, demographic changes, and accounting changes. No business officer can face these challenges alone and in the vacuum of [his or her] own campus. It is important to make the journey, network with others, and find out how others are pursuing the opportunities that exist.”
At a national level, Susan Whealler Johnston, president and CEO of NACUBO, recognized and highlighted the importance of collaboration. She noted:
“NACUBO benefits in innumerable ways from working closely with individuals, institutions, and the four regional associations (EACUBO, SACUBO, CACUBO and WACUBO). These partnerships equip us to address the changing environment of higher education and the changing needs of our members more effectively. They give us access to the on-the-ground knowledge that strengthens our work. With these partners, we know we share similar interests—supporting business officers and higher education. This mission alignment gives meaning to our collaboration.”
There are great challenges facing higher education, but I have deep faith in the intelligence, commitment, and creativity of business officers. Working together, so much is possible. There is a line in the EACUBO Vision Statement that reads, “We are an incubator and a network where our members collaboratively tackle some of the most significant challenges and opportunities facing higher education.” Doesn’t that say it all?
Rita Temple Brooks
Dartmouth College (retired)