The Need to Lead
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We understand the interplay among the core components of that dynamic environment and how each must link to an institution’s strategic plan if it is to remain healthy and relevant. Drawing from the resources of our nationally respected affiliate network, we work collaboratively with educational institutions, nonprofits, and consortia toward creating an integrated vision for the future.
Is the institution’s ethos reflected in its strategic plan?
Does the strategic plan provide an actionable framework that links institutional resources with people, programs, and facilities?
The best strategic plans create a living dynamic, establish shared aspirations, and build excitement and momentum throughout the institutional community. They also enable institutional leaders to successfully drive and manage change in areas ranging from facilities enhancements and community outreach to development.
Brian Mitchell & Associates offers a proven ability to help institutions not just think boldly but also move decisively. We can support an institutional leader’s vision by setting attainable goals, clear benchmarks, and robust, well-timed internal assessments, all of which help to earn the endorsement of senior-level administrators and establish a visible way forward for the entire community. Embraced by a wide range of constituents, a good strategic plan takes on a life of its own, with goals continuously driven forward from all corners of the institution.
Does the master plan emerge seamlessly from the strategic plan?
Is it sufficiently comprehensive to transform the institution into a dynamic regional and national economic driver?
The best master plans take a holistic view of the institution, seeking change that not only strengthens an institution’s physical presence but also uplifts the entire community. They must also protect an institution’s historic claims to tax exemption, which are critical to its survival.
Brian Mitchell & Associates works closely with institutional leaders, architects, project managers, facilities planners, and in-house facilities staff to structure a plan and process that enables clients to meet their strategic objectives. We lay out the framework that enables clients to stay on time and on budget, link the master plan to the strategic plan, and drive community connections and economic growth.
Is shared governance respected and understood by the institution as a whole?
Do key constituencies understand the duties, responsibilities, opportunities – and limitations – of their roles in the governance structure?
In the corporate world, decisions tend to rest with the CEO, but nonprofit management is characterized by shared governance. As such, the perspectives of boards of trustees and other key constituencies factor significantly into every major decision.
With decades of experience in higher education leadership, the firm and its network of distinguished managers and practitioners have a highly successful track record of working effectively with trustees and senior-level administrators. That experience, combined with the perspective gained from corporate work, provides the perfect vantage point for helping clients understand the challenges and opportunities of shared governance. As a result, we are able to deliver comprehensive, effective strategies that help our clients lead and manage complex institutions.
How do you find senior managers who understand nonprofits but also possess the creativity and nimbleness to act as change agents?
In an era that demands cost-effective and entrepreneurial solutions, how can nonprofit institutions develop and sustain a team that grows with and adapts to their own success in a rapidly changing environment?
Increasingly, nonprofit institutions are finding new opportunities to rethink how members of their senior management team relate to one another as well as the dynamic environment in which they operate. Many institutions are now hiring senior-level managers from a broader and deeper candidate pool that includes the private sector. Further, management best practices dictate that key staff members organize in different ways to meet challenges and opportunities and respond to the needs of their constituencies.
To address the changing face of nonprofit leadership, Brian Mitchell & Associates works closely with institutions to understand their unique environments, match the right players to the right settings, and help implement management and organizational strategies that have identifiable metrics by which to measure leadership success.
In an era of declining resources, how much flexibility exists to meet changing conditions and new opportunities?
How do nonprofit institutions understand and maximize their revenue streams to meet key objectives linked to their strategic plan?
Most nonprofit institutions are heavily dependent on some combination of user fees, such as college tuition, and auxiliary revenue streams. A few have sizeable endowments, but even these institutions have been impacted by the deep recession and draw-down policies. In addition, nonprofits face reductions in state and federal support and shifting priorities among corporate and foundation donors.
At Brian Mitchell & Associates, we work with institutions to conduct an in-depth assessment of their financial health, potential revenue sources, and how their revenue, debt, tax policy, and (where appropriate) new revenue and third-party sources can be used to achieve strategic initiatives. Our job is to reassemble the financial pieces to create a viable, balanced, and conservative pathway to support growth while strengthening the understanding and use of current and prospective financial resources.
Has the institution linked its admissions and financial aid programs to shape a student body that reflects the aspirations of its strategic plan?
Is the institution’s enrollment model relational or transactional in nature?
Enrollment drives educational institutions’ financial, cultural, and academic agendas. Yet in a world where the need for a college-educated workforce is greater than ever, colleges and universities face daunting challenges associated with changing student demographics, an increasingly competitive admissions environment, and uncertain economic conditions. We strongly believe the time has come to move from a transactional to a relational model of student recruitment. Having created and implemented successful and sustainable admissions and enrollment programs, we are fully qualified to reorient and retool an institution so that enrollment staff can identify and recruit not just more applicants, but the right applicants – those most likely to enroll and thrive there. In doing so, we help build enrollment programs that foster lifelong relationships with students “from cradle through career.”
Does the strategic plan take into account its sense of place in the surrounding community?
Has the institution devised strategies to protect its tax exemption while investing funds to foster community development?
Too often, and many times unintentionally, nonprofit institutions isolate themselves from the towns and cities where they reside. Brian Mitchell & Associates helps institutions implement programs that are mutually beneficial to both the internal and external communities. We assess the assets most likely to build community engagement and spur development, while addressing the tax implications of community relations at the local and regional levels.
By working with the firm, institutions can become better neighbors and drivers of economic activity in their regions and, in turn, help surrounding communities become more vibrant, welcoming, and attractive to potential applicants, faculty, and employees.
Together with our affiliate network, Brian Mitchell & Associates includes some of the best and brightest thought leaders, opinion makers, and practitioners in American higher education and nonprofit management. We focus on game-changing ideas that deliver meaningful, sustainable progress to both individual institutions and the nonprofit sector as a whole.
The case studies below emerge from the seven core competencies in which the firm specializes. Each study is part of a larger puzzle meant to demonstrate the importance of developing a strategic vision for an organization.
Question: How do we provide better training for senior higher education leadership that addresses individual strengths and weaknesses and encourages best practices in management?
This project is developed through the Edvance Foundation, which has been supported in part by Brian Mitchell & Associates as its principal philanthropy.
The mission of this continuing education series is to provide ongoing, continuous, “life long” training for college administrators, faculty, staff and trustees to improve their understanding of and contributions to the higher education community.
To do so, the Edvance Foundation will collaborate with Today’s Campus to offer one-hour webinars on multiple topics of interest, both technical and policy-based, to higher education leadership. The American Academic Leadership Institute of Washington, DC will also explore joining this relationship as it develops.
This project is important because it has the potential to become the glue that links together early stage, annual, summer, and joint programming for higher education leadership. Senior executives assume new duties with different backgrounds and skill sets. American higher education does not have a robust continuing education series comparable to those found in fields like law and medicine.
The assumption is that the webinar format will offer specialized training across senior higher education leadership in areas of weakness, where best practices can be identified, or of general and continuing interest. The series will be open to practitioners in higher education and offered at no cost.
Question: Is it possible to imagine incorporating new educational opportunity within a large planned “town” community that is also linked to the projected growth of an emerging major metropolitan area?
A successful California-based developer, Ron Alvarado, has made available 223 acres for higher education as part of a 2700-acre development of nearly 8,000 homes and businesses. The Sacramento Board of Supervisors has approved the project at a suburban location within sight of the downtown skyline.
Working with the retired president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of California, Dr. Jonathan Brown (Buffalo Consulting), we began by organizing a diverse study group of distinguished thinkers and practitioners to meet in Sacramento to “imagine” what might be created. Building from their input, we then developed a white paper that placed the Cordova Hills/Sacramento development within a state and national framework and conducted a listening tour with senior national higher education leadership, the foundation community, and business leaders.
The project is now assessing how best to build deeper relationships with the Sacramento business community and seek broader community input. Once the pieces are assembled, we will begin discussions with interested educational providers that will be able to offer an academic program suited to the needs of the Sacramento community.
This project is innovative because it is not narrowly an effort to sell a “product” to the Sacramento market. Instead, the program designers ask “Where will Sacramento be in 25 years?” and links educational need to economic development and the workforce preparation likely to be demanded by a rapidly growing metropolitan area.
For more information, please note:
Question: Why is a tax-exempt status key to a University’s ability to serve the public good?
Pennsylvania maintains an overlapping hodgepodge of almost 500 political jurisdictions most of which are severely cash strapped. As the Pennsylvania economy shifted from heavy manufacturing to the service industry, the infrastructure in place no longer supported the economic and demographics shifts, therefore, leading to an eroding tax base.
The impact on the College would be devastating with the costs of the loss of tax exemption passed along directly to future students. The loss would make independent colleges and universities non-competitive with their public sector peers whose institutions would enjoy both tax exemption and a direct public subsidy designed to keep tuitions lower.
There were a number of challenges to the tax exemption of non-profits throughout the United States, including Pennsylvania. The most serious of these – and a national bellwether case still viewed as the definitive court ruling – was the challenge by the City of Washington to the tax-exempt status of Washington & Jefferson College.
All major national higher education associations filed amicus briefs to support the College. The independent college community looked to the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AICUP) to develop a comprehensive and defensible strategy. To provide support, most independent colleges and universities in Pennsylvania paid an amount equal to one-half of their annual dues to support the legal effort. Eventually, the case reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court whose members decided in favor of Washington & Jefferson.
For more information, please note:
How do you scale nationally a well-tested pilot that offers a practical solution on how to transfer two-year graduates seamlessly into four-year colleges and universities?
The Campus Transfer Project, with the working title of “Nexpectation Network,” is an initiative of the Edvance Foundation, supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, numerous corporate givers including the AT & T Foundation, UPS Foundation, Pfizer Foundation, and others, and a grant from Brian Mitchell & Associates. It builds upon a five-year pilot at Bucknell University supported by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided critical supplemental planning support to develop the largest research study undertaken in America of practices and protocol affecting two-year students transferring to four-year independent colleges and universities. The study, now completed in draft stage, will be released in the next several months.
In addition, the Gates Foundation support permitted the Edvance Foundation to undertake an 18-state listening tour and a webinar series that reached 800 higher education officials, including 400 college and university presidents to test assumptions leading to full-scale implementation.
Pending funding, implementation will likely begin in 2015, with the opening of a “Phase One” group of regional centers across the country.
For more information on this program, visit:
Question: Can American higher education develop a collective approach beyond lobbying and research to create sector-wide efficiencies and economies of scale that serve its institutions and their faculty, staff and students?
As part of its strategic visioning, AICUP presidents opened a member services division within the Association to look for ways in which the independent colleges and universities might achieve efficiencies and create economies of scale. The president-members were sensitive to concerns about high tuition prices and worried that outdated business models required the application of best practices to move a common agenda forward.
Specifically AICUP sought:
To design participatory programs of shared service delivery or group-based procurement to leverage the consumer strength of the AICUP membership, thereby reducing price for services and goods.
To exercise market influence as an aggregation of consumers with like needs and similar circumstance in such a way as to encourage service and product suppliers to recognize the status of private higher education as a significant market worthy of preferred marketing coverage, pricing and service delivery.
To promote programs of collaboration that, absent the Association’s coordination role, would not be developed to the necessary critical mass on a regional or state-wide level.
To avoid duplication of efforts with our member colleges by identifying unique and strategic opportunities that are best suited for a state-level association and not otherwise performed by individual or groups of member colleges on a regular basis.
For more information, see:
Question: Can small- and mid-sized colleges and universities compete successfully in peer-reviewed state and federal grant programs and for foundation support without incurring the prohibitive, individual cost to establish a government, corporate and foundation relations office?
Colleges and universities find it increasingly difficult to compete for state, federal and foundation support, particularly since they cannot staff and maintain an office of the scale of large, research universities. Yet there is a substantial amount of innovative and creative work ongoing that qualifies them for this support.
How, then, do universities with different missions than research universities compete successfully for federal dollars, especially since the days of “pork barrel” spending have ended?
The Washington, DC-based consulting firm, McAllister & Quinn, developed a specialized higher education practice within its practice areas to address this problem. Specifically, McAllister & Quinn built a sophisticated network of specialists in federal and corporate relations putting together a team that is comparable to that found at major research universities.
For a fraction of the cost, the McAlister & Quinn team will work with faculty and staff at the participating colleges to identify major projects that advance faculty, staff and student knowledge and typically meet institutional strategic goals. They employ 140 grant writers in specialized fields – including former program officers at federal agencies and foundations – to assist the college community in developing grants, although the faculty and staff at the participating institution must conceptualize and write the grants. The McAlister & Quinn team is especially adept at completing budgeting and developing assessment protocols.
The success rate –usually 1 for 9 for large federal grants – now approaches 1 for 3 for grants submitted under their tutelage.
Brian Mitchell & Associates works collaboratively with McAllister & Quinn to identify potential clients, work with them on specific grants, and assist in areas of specialized expertise, including grants to the foundation community.
For more information, please go to the link:
NOTE: This is the first “sponsored” arrangement with another group identified as a best practice provider and serves as a prototype for future cooperative partnerships.
Question: How do you create a unified, dynamic independent higher education community with a strong sense of self that operates as a sector but displays some of the best characteristics of a public system of higher education?
Brian Mitchell led the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (1991-1998). When he took the job, the independent college community operated under the umbrella of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities (PACU) and had no separate cultural, political, or legal identity. Working with an exceptional group of leaders serving then as presidents, we created a vision for independent higher education, acquired and redeployed the tools necessary to support it, and collaboratively developed a statewide consensus to establish priorities designed to promote the interests of independent higher education.
To do so, we worked with the member presidents to merge three predecessor organizations: the Council of Independent Colleges, the Pennsylvania Independent College and University Research Center, and the Foundation for Independent Colleges into AICUP. In this capacity, Dr. Mitchell served as the chief spokesperson for the 88 independent colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. More important, we championed the cause of independent higher education in Harrisburg and Washington. During these years the PHEAA student grant program – the second largest state student aid program in America – received healthy increases. Working collaboratively as presidents, we also spearheaded the successful drive to protect the tax -exempt status of Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities when the City of Washington challenged Washington & Jefferson College Washington & Jefferson College in a bellwether battle that reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Working with the Pennsylvania foundation community who funded much of the programming for this initiative, we created a major research center whose annual studies form the basis for much of the comparative strategic planning occurring on Pennsylvania’s independent college and university campuses today. We also organized a major member service program initiative, with more than two dozen programs today that have created efficiencies and economies of scale for the sector, saving millions of dollars in costs otherwise incurred by them.
Recognizing that it could not operate as an isolated “city upon a hill,” Bucknell University linked its strategic plan, master plan, and external relations to an ambitious and comprehensive vision that transferred core university assets into an aggressive downtown/neighborhood development program. The university used a mix of state and federal funding, university funding and tax credits, and private developers to imagine collaborative partnerships between university and community stakeholders, changing forever the relationship between town and gown.
Washington & Jefferson College had a rancorous relationship with the small city of Washington, Pennsylvania, where it had existed as a “colonial college” since the nation’s founding. When the city began challenging Washington & Jefferson’s tax-exempt status, college senior leadership took on two critical tasks. The first was to rebuild relations between town and gown. The second was to launch an ambitious building campaign that linked the development of the college’s facilities and programs to a comprehensive master plan designed to support the college’s enrollment growth in an urban setting while maintaining its identity as a selective liberal arts institution with rich tradition.
When the city of Washington, Pennsylvania, challenged the tax-exempt status of Washington & Jefferson College, American higher education understood what was at stake. The national higher education associations filed amicus briefs in support of the college. Pennsylvania’s private colleges and universities took the unprecedented step of assessing themselves a one-time fee to support the college in its prolonged legal battles. The case became the national bellwether and remains the best defense on why colleges and universities remain tax-exempt in America today.