2014 SCUP North Atlantic Regional Conference

By Bob Joy

I‘m jazzed! I just came back from a meeting of the SCUP Council in Ann Arbor, Michigan where 30 higher education planners gathered for two days to identify the most pressing issues facing higher education. The insights we gained will help us plan future SCUP conferences and educational offerings.

I wasn’t surprised to find that the need for better planning, particularly integrated planning, was at the top of nearly everyone’s list. This is not exactly a golden era for colleges and universities:  Fiscal resources are slim and mostly declining; The demographic bulge of students has come and gone; federal, state and regional accrediting organizations are pressing for greater accountability; parents and students are concerned about the high levels of debt students are incurring; new organizations are questioning whether a college degree is really a sound investment; many facilities were built in the latter half of the 20th renovated or replaced; and the rise of MOOCs and other technology-driven delivery systems have led some to question whether we need campuses at all!

Central to the concept of integrated planning is the realization that colleges and universities cannot effectively address these challenges by working in traditional silos. As Jolene Knapp notes in her article, “Good planning is collaborative, transparent, and integrated!”

SCUP is the one organization that cuts across all disciplines and integrates academic, financial, strategic, and physical resources.

It is hard to pick up a newspaper or magazine nowadays that doesn’t contain an article about the affordability crisis in higher education. Calls for greater accountability and fiscal responsibility are coming from members of congress, state legislators, parents, and students.

In his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama announced that the Department of Education would be releasing report cards grading colleges and universities on their effectiveness and efficiency. I am sure that all of the college presidents watching the speech were hoping that they would be graded on a curve.

As a result of these concerns, resources at colleges and universities will be constrained even further in coming years. Faced with hard choices, some administrators will choose to defund “non-essential” expenses, such as memberships and conference attendance. While on the surface it might look prudent to keep the money focused on the mission, it could actually undermine the long-term viability of these institutions. When resources are scarce, we need to follow the old carpenter’s rule of, “Measure twice, cut once.” We should be placing a greater emphasis on planning, especially the unique model of integrated planning advocated by the Society for College and University Planning.

SCUP’s approach to planning cuts across silos and integrates all of the key factors – resource allocation, academic planning, budget & finance, and facilities – into an inclusive, transparent process. Membership in SCUP should be seen as an essential first step toward achieving greater accountability and demonstrating fiscal responsibility.

Conference attendance is also sometimes constrained when budgets are tight. Yet, what is one great insight or idea worth to an administrator? SCUP’s collegial culture provides opportunities to learn from members who reflect the broad range of interests and roles found in higher education. Our conferences bring the best minds together to share ideas and case studies in efficient and friendly forums. The post-conference surveys we conduct always show that participants place a high value on what they have learned and feel it is essential to their professional growth.

This year’s SCUP 2014 North Atlantic Regional Conference is on March 12–14, 2014 at Boston University in the heart of Boston,  in a region rich with institutions of higher education. These institutions constantly wrestle with four aspects of planning: Mission, Resources, Technology, and Place. In today’s economy, it is essential to link these planning aspects to provide the best, most relevant, and most economical outcomes. The onus is on us as institutional and consulting planners to carefully consider and integrate all these aspects when undertaking new campus initiatives.  Let’s “Mind the Gap” together by creating better planning outcomes!

Robert J. Joy, AIA is managing principal at JMZ Architects and Planners, P.C. and North Atlantic regional representative on the SCUP Board