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The Current Climate and State Institutions

Chris Moloney, Senior Consulting Associate, AGB Institutional Strategies

AGBIS has worked with many large State systems.  Except for a few places, state funding for higher education remains far from where it was in 2008. Slowing enrollment growth, coupled with public unease with tuition increases and greater demands to move more students through to graduation, are driving state colleges and universities to closely examine their business models and come up with creative solutions.

Our observations – who is looking out for the interests of the state? Who is ensuring institutions aren’t reverting to take only those who can afford to go college?  Who is planning for the future of higher education in each state to maximize efficiency and provide the highest quality education for the state’s citizens? A state higher education system can provide all of this if its role is properly identified.

Systems, and their individual institutions/subunits/campuses are crucial for a state’s success.  For example, who better to put together a long-range plan to support in-state small businesses than a task force with major participation from business schools? Who better to study the health-care needs of a state, than university medical-school leadership and finance and economics faculty members? The best experts in the state who are charged with always being up-to-date in their fields reside on university campuses.

State higher education systems came into being with the belief that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. No one institution will ever focus on the state’s needs like a system has the freedom and obligation to do.  If systems have appropriate and well-defined responsibilities and exercise good judgment in imposing restraints on themselves then this belief can be/is realized.

A state system can and should use talented experts on each campus to help solve problems and provide creative solutions.  It helps if the system office is viewed as a facilitator instead of a gatekeeper or overseer. To that end, it’s important to recognize that the board of trustees of the state system has a uniquely broad perspective regarding the needs of the state that will be necessary for maximizing the potential capability and responsibility of each system institution.  Importantly, as we look toward the strategies and initiatives that can help state institutions find prosperity, the delicate balance between power and its judicious, equitable use remains the key to good system board governance. To achieve that balance, the governing board of a system must stay focused on the big picture and the system’s broad, overarching goals. Each institution must then be given latitude to determine the processes to be used in achieving system-wide goals. The resources available and the caliber of students being admitted, among other things, dictate different paths to a solution.

If you’d like to learn more about AGB Institutional Strategies work with state institutions, please call 202-776-0868 or email