Confronted by Our Challenges, Defined by Our Opportunities

As a kid, I always enjoyed team sports more than individual sports, and during my community college career, my appreciation of teams, or cohorts as we sometimes call them, has only increased. Teams support us when we stumble or slow down, challenge us to broaden our thinking and see different perspectives, and push us to go further than we would typically go alone.

One of my favorite teams/cohorts where I was a participant was a cohort of community colleges associated with the University of Michigan called “Strategic Horizons.” Through that effort, faculty and staff of certain community colleges would gather a few times a year to visit organizations other than colleges to learn new insights, and collectively discuss ideas that we typically do not discuss in our sector. One of the most influential gatherings for me was one where we discussed the idea of “Abundance Theory.” An abundance approach is one where we attempt to clearly see unique opportunities, maximize them and address but not dwell on our scarcity. It is a mindset where we look to be defined by our opportunities, not by our challenges.

However, to achieve our opportunities, we have to confront our challenges, so I first want to share with you how we have been confronting our budget challenges.

Confronting Our Challenges

In recent times, NOVA has faced more budget challenges than we are accustomed to which can cause a scarcity perspective to fester. Three consecutive years of declining enrollment are uncommon if not unprecedented to NOVA, although it is a circumstance faced by approximately 90% of America’s community colleges at average rates of decline greater than ours. Just last week, our challenges accumulated more when it was announced that the governor would introduce a 2017-2018 budget that would include a 7.5% reduction in state allocations to colleges and universities. We will have to wait to see if the budget that is ultimately passed will include this cut which would present up to another $7 million in reductions to our 2018 budget.

NOVA has not been sitting idly to confront these challenges, even though we did not anticipate the additional challenge of significant state cuts. Many of you know that well as we are working this year with reduced staffing across all areas of the College compared to last year. We are doing so because we have to adjust to a student enrollment base that is equivalent to our enrollment in 2011.

Through the hiring freeze and attrition, our full-time staffing budgets this year in central administration are 13.5% less than the previous year and 4.1% less on our campuses. This equates to 111 fewer full-time budgeted positions across NOVA: 8 fewer instructional faculty, 34 fewer administrative/professional faculty positions and 69 fewer classified staff positions. These attrition-based reductions in personnel costs (personnel costs account for 78% of the NOVA budget) and other operating efficiency savings, combined with a welcomed increase in our performance funding to $12.4 million, have enabled us to address the budget challenges we faced transitioning from last year to the current budget year.

However, we also have to be thinking toward next year when we have to assume a potential additional enrollment decline and when we will face some level of state funding reductions. Already, our provosts and vice presidents have been operating under strategies to reduce an additional $11 million in costs for next year primarily through attrition and rehiring strategies, and some cuts to operating costs. We did this to enable us to accommodate potential enrollment declines and allow for a raise that was taken off the table this year without any increase in tuition. The bad news is the proposed level of state budget cuts would not allow us to accomplish the combination of those goals. The good news is I think we are managing our budget reductions in a way that moves us toward where we will need to be next year, even if we face state budget reductions on top of enrollment decline.

Optimizing Our Opportunities

While confronting these budget and enrollment challenges, if we look at the other side of the hour glass, I believe it is clear that NOVA sits at a cusp of an opportunity that is greater than perhaps any community college in the country. I suspected that when I chose to come to NOVA and felt some initial wavering when I discovered some of the immediate financial challenges we faced. But, very honestly, I have found my own abundance perspective grow as I have come to better appreciate the great talent we have at our College and how we can harness that talent to better serve our region.

In my next several Intercom contributions, I will attempt to outline – two at a time – the abundance opportunities I see for NOVA, which I describe as follows:

* Pave Our Pipeline Pathways

* Mine Our Deep Job Veins

* Capitalize Our Technology Leadership

* Open All Doors/Connect All Advising Resources

* Engage Our Brand

* Tap Our Diverse Talent

During the campus forums which many of you have attended, I have tried to also describe what I see – both opportunities and challenges – and I have appreciated your questions and ideas. They have reinforced my belief that facing budget reductions and strategic planning are team efforts that will succeed only when everyone plays a part and has a voice – students, classified staff, faculty and administration.

I strongly believe if we attempt to better understand and collectively grasp and maximize our unique opportunities we will make great strides in furthering the strategic opportunities for every student to succeed, every program to achieve and every community to prosper. More to come.

2 thoughts on “Confronted by Our Challenges, Defined by Our Opportunities

  1. Thank you for these columns. Very helpful to know where the organization is going and the hurdles that need to be overcome to continue moving forward.

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