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What is the role of faculty in the higher ed business model?

A Carroll Community College examination of teaching efficiency found a potential $1.2 million in savings — without any layoffs

Carroll Community College recently partnered with the rpk GROUP to identify inefficiencies in the school’s business model that might be shored up to boost the school’s bottom line, and what they found was an additional $1.2 million on the table if they could just find a way to shift the teaching load of professors already on the payroll.

At a jointly presented session at the American Association of Community Colleges annual meeting last month in New Orleans, Rick Staisloff, principal of rpk GROUP, pointed out, “The most expensive investment you’ve made on campus is in full-time faculty, so how can you get more students in front of those full-time faculty members and fewer in classes taught by adjuncts?”

Based on faculty’s own reporting, most course sections hovered around 75% capacity. The question for Staisloff became, “How do we make the shift from a spending model to a return model? How do we get away from the idea of cutting and more to a reallocation model?”

The senior leadership team at the college began debating ways to get a better return on investment from the current human resources on campus.

“One thing we knew is if we’re talking about ‘productivity,’ if we used the word ‘productivity’ with faculty, if we used the word ‘throughput’ with faculty, we were going to be in big trouble,” said President James Ball. “Those are difficult conversations to have on campus. Everyone starts to get a little paranoid about ‘am I going to have a job?’ and though they won’t come out and tell you that, that’s what’s in the back of their minds.”

“This isn’t a riff conversation,” Staisloff said, “This can set you up in terms of the longer-term vision of what you should do.”

The preeminent task was “trying to convince the faculty that, yes, we were trying to move back to a certain level quantitatively, but we want to maintain the quality of education” and not overload sections just for the sake of the bottom line, said Alan Schuman, executive vice president of administration at Carroll.

So the approach the team decided to take was to work with department chairs to identify ways to consolidate sessions without overloading faculty. “What we knew was that if we were going to do this well, we needed to integrate this into our normal planning and evaluation process,” Ball said.

Ball said he anticipated some pushback from faculty who say they are already underpaid and small class sizes are appropriate compensation.

The administration started by giving modest salary increases to all faculty — a 1% bump — "as a carrot to say 'Hey, we need your buy-in here. And we won’t have the basis to continue to make these increases without it,'" said Schuman.

National and state benchmarking data became very important for making the case. “That use of national and state benchmarks is really important to show where we can go. It’s hard to argue against those national and state benchmarks,” Ball said.

Include faculty in the conversation

“Sometimes faculty are better at analyzing data than we are,” he continued, “and they ask critical questions of that data” and help interrogate it to set reasonable goals for the institution, “but they are data we can use consistently.”

And it was important to have faculty input into the decisions being made to ensure they would take responsibility for their action plans, he said. “We wanted to interact with the departments in a way that those data had face validity for them.”

It is important for leadership to be able to communicate benefits to faculty of any new strategic undertaking to get full buy-in. “There has to be something in it for the faculty, other than ‘I’m trying to protect your job,’” Ball said. If “there’s a return on investment to the institution, there’s a return on investment to your service center.”

And it’s also important to take a critical look at administrative functions for inefficiencies as well, to ensure faculty don’t feel like the full burden of change is falling on their shoulders.

"We looked at our administrative structure" as well, Ball said. "What we found through that cost efficiency study is that our professional level staff, we were operating [at costs] lower than the national average, [but] what was a bit surprising was that in our support staff, we were operating a little higher than our national average, which is reflective of the way we’ve pushed things down” to other staffers on campus."

As a result of the analysis, class sizes are up an average of 5%, and $500,000 has been reallocated to new program development in the first three years of the effort, which was the goal the institution initially set. Ball said all departments are now more focused on the numbers, looking more at low productivity and high-cost programs, and faculty are strategically increasing class caps and classroom size where possible. Faculty and administrators better understand break-even requirements by course and by program, and the institution has implemented an improved academic analytic data system.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed
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