“Play to your strength” is advice often given to children, employees and colleagues. Likewise, it is good advice for colleges and universities, particularly if strengths adapt to changing needs.

Competencies are the keys to an organization’s ability to meet its mission. If it is true that disruption occurs to organizations that ignore the supply-side of the business, then innovating on one’s strengths and capacities is critical to sustainability. While curriculum, pedagogy and scholarship may not seem like economic factors, they are the competencies at the core of a college’s ability to meet the expectations of its students, community and other constituents. Consequently, these components must be well aligned with the institution’s mission, not reactionary responses to the changing environment and demographics.

“We had to learn what was best in us, and we built on that.” Nicole Trufant, Vice President of Finance and Administration, University of New England

Perhaps because higher education competencies are largely the purview of the faculty, who are often structurally removed from issues of financial sustainability, such changes have proved challenging and slow. However, faculty at many institutions are engaging in experiments, pilots and even implementation of new modes of delivery—often supported by technology—and curriculum reform in efforts to promote student success and concurrently reduce the cost of instruction. MOOCs, competency-based education, (technologically supported) adaptive learning, and peer-to-peer teaching models are but a few examples. Other efforts focus on providing focused or compressed learning opportunities, helping to ensure that students complete their degrees efficiently.

Leveraging Strengths

At the University of Minnesota Rochester, faculty implemented a cohort model to leverage student success and institutional efficiency. Other institutions have utilized their strengths in other ways. Under the leadership of Danielle Ripich, President Emeritus, the University of New England recognized its potential to utilize its strengths in the sciences to respond to a vacuum created by an absence of health-related programs in the state of Maine.

Two other New England institutions, Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory, recognized their unique but complementary programmatic strengths could be enhanced through merger of the two institutions. In another approach to focusing on institutional competencies, Delaware State University assessed its academic and administrative strengths through data-informed strategies, allowing it to identify priority programs for investment and to sunset 22 others.

Additional Strengths Questions

To explore additional information or references about the importance of capitalizing on strengths and competencies to economic sustainability, visit the EMP library.