AICCU Annual Planning Retreat

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The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities met last week for a planning retreat. About 40 Presidents and Provosts attended, about 2/3 were Presidents—it was my first time at this event. AICCU is composed of all of the private, non-profit colleges and universities in California, from the big research universities, like Stanford and USC, to the more elite Liberal Arts schools like the Claremont Colleges, to the Catholic and Evangelical institutions and everything larger and smaller. President Menjares and I met and talked with administrators from Pt. Loma, William Jessup, San Diego Christian, among Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in California, plus Pepperdine, Notre Dame de Namur, University of the Pacific, Stanford, USC, La Sierra, Cal Tech and a number of others. I know, saying “I met and talked with administrators” means just exactly what you are thinking…it wasn’t the most exciting time, but it was interesting nonetheless.

We private, non-profit institutions enroll 20% of the students of the state and graduate 25%, and do it on average 1-2 years earlier than our public cousins. In addition we enroll about 30% of under-represented minorities (for FPU the percentage is higher at about 37%), who are often first-generation college students, and they graduate at faster rates as well. (First generation students, regardless of ethnicity, complete college at a rate of 15% below second and third generation students.) You can tell by the above list that the AICCU schools represent a broad range of institutions. Nonetheless we come together annually at this planning retreat, and also in Sacramento for Cal Grant day, each spring. You can find out more about the AICCU itself at their website which is currently in the final stages of reconstruction. (If this link doesn’t work just look for “AICCU.”)

As at all strategic planning events, we reviewed our mission and core values statements. They might need a bit of updating, but that part was quick. The big goal that surfaced (Jim Collins would call it, inelegantly, a BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal) was for the private, non-profit sector to become recognized as one of the major parts of the higher education environment and plan in California. We graduate 25% of the state’s graduates. Shouldn’t we be recognized for this contribution already, and made a part of the regular planning for meeting the needs of the state for educated citizens? We aren’t so recognized.

This is a “non-trivial” issue, as the say. Our current capacity in the state will graduate about 3.1 million student in the next 10 or so years; it is estimated (I am not quite sure by whom) that California will need 5.3 million. AICCU schools accomplish their part far cheaper for the state than public institutions. We finance the building of our own campuses through a combination of gifts and revenue. Students pay a higher tuition, supplemented by gifts from generous individuals and families, churches and businesses. But they recover much of that by being in the workforce as professionals, 1-2 years earlier than others. For the most part they leave with only slightly higher debt than at public institutions. For instance, FPU’s average student leaves with about $23,000 in student loans, compared to $27-28,000 nationwide, and $18-19,000 at California’s state supported institutions. All in all, we are pretty cost-effective at achieving public goals. We have to be or we don’t survive, and we have many, many generous donors who help make it happen.

So why aren’t we recognized as one of the major sectors in the state? This question has bothered me for years. I can’t count the times someone has noticed that as the only private institution with a full campus in the Central Valley we do not face a lot of competition from other similar schools. What an opportunity! But this observation misses the other side of our situation. By being the only one, and surrounded by three CSUs (Bakersfield, Fresno and Stanislaus) one UC (Merced) and as well as more than a half-dozen community college districts, we are often simply not noticed, and not recognized as a permanent and effective option for students generally. It is slightly different in Southern California where there are a lot more private institutions, but they report some of the same effect. We have to make a lot of noise, and then we are seen as elitist or expensive. I’m not complaining, I’m explaining, whatever it sounds like.

I have sometimes wondered how it is that in a state known for its entrepreneurial initiative (witness Hollywood and Silicon Valley) and its pretty rugged individualism (certainly seen in the Central Valley, but elsewhere as well), we turn so often to state solutions. That’s a question for another day.

The question for today is, so what will the AICCU do to achieve this great big goal? We weren’t able to answer that question on the retreat. The AICCU staff and others will begin working on it. I hope to be in on the discussion at some level. It is the same question we have asked and answered at FPU about how we will be known in our own region. One strategy will be to get our state legislators to our campuses. That is in the planning right now.

One more note, only slightly unrelated to the above, might be helpful. Being with a group of presidents and provosts was intriguing for someone who is a sometime student of leadership. I noticed something I hadn’t seen before quite so clearly. While all of those in attendance were experienced and articulate, they were adept at getting to the point, finding the crucial issues, stating them clearly, ceasing to speak when they had made their point once, refining the issues through conversation, and moving to conclusions that were insightful and pointed. These are people, a fairly balance group between men and women, who have learned the art of discovering what should or needs to happen, getting people on board, and then making it happen. I think there will be a new understanding of the place private non-profit higher education plays in the state developing over the next decade.

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