“Very Innovative”

After about 4 months of study, the new president of Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Education has put forth a “sweeping plan” (named Excel CT) whose main focus is to increase enrollments, calling it “very innovative.” Since when is increasing enrollments – doing what everyone else is doing – an innovative solution to financial problems in higher education?

The plan is to grow enrollment by 8,000 students over the next 3-5 years, which represents an average compound annual growth rate of about 2 percent. This underwhelming target is supposed to “…carry the system through the next quarter-century,” and is characterized as a “new vision for the system” – which, actually, is the same as the old vision in terms of enrollment growth. A member of the Board of Regents for Higher Education characterizes the president as “bold enough and daring enough to put some ideas out there…” Huh?

The addition of 8,000 students over the next 3-5 years, most of whom reside in Connecticut (paying in-state tuition) and will receive substantial tuition discounts, will not cover the annual cost of salaries, benefits, office, computing, consultant and other expenses for CSU system office administration and staff over that same time period.

The other elements of the plan are equally underwhelming. This is a excellent example of conventional leadership thinking in higher education, and much can be learned from it. Read the contrast between this and Lean leadership thinking in higher education here and here.

The “very innovative” Excel CT plan largely embraces the status quo (e.g. quantity of enrollment over quality of instruction) in a time of great change in higher education (competition and changing expectations of students and payers), and will immediately put Connecticut’s four state universities at a disadvantage relative to local and regional competition. Is the plan even relevant if university enrollment declines 10 or 15 percent within the next six to twelve months?

The Excel CT plan is more aptly named Decel CT. An expensive assortment of fixes will likely be required sometime in the future, as is often the case when long-term success is sacrificed for (minor) short-term financial gains.

Read a short article I wrote in 2005 titled “Lean in Higher Education,” which identified most of the problems that we face today, and missed opportunities to be proactive and avoid the pain that will soon come to public higher education.

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