Thursday, June 30th, 2016
By Eileen Klein
June 30 marks the end of President Klein's original three-year term with the Arizona Board of Regents. Today, she looks back on the accomplishments of the board and the work that lies ahead for the public university enterprise.
The late, great Muhammad Ali once shared the adage, "It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe."
For us, the mountains up ahead represent the big changes underway in higher education - a rapidly evolving marketplace, in which students are demanding greater access, customization and quality and have more options to choose from than ever before. At the same time, states are struggling to find sufficient resources yet recognizing the impact of our work on labor forces and capital formation in order to be competitive.
When I came to the board three years ago, my charge was to respond to these unique challenges by repositioning the board for optimal management of a complex tri-university system. This overarching mission, ensuring our state's university infrastructure is strong and able to succeed despite the financial and operational challenges we face, defined my role right from the beginning - and was a natural progression of the reform work I had carried out for Arizona's governor during the Great Recession.
Higher education is one of the strongest links to a healthy economy, and repositioning our public universities has not only laid the groundwork for much of our success, it came to singularly define our board's fundamental purpose and continues to drive our work going forward. (Click HERE for a summary brochure of important work and outcomes from 2013-2016.)
Working with our presidents, we have repositioned our universities by forging an enterprise approach - one that is focused on outcomes, strategic decision-making, long-term competitiveness, total transparency and quality assurance and offers a more dynamic and streamlined model than traditional state education hierarchies.
Under this model, student success is the top priority and university presidents are seen as CEOs accountable for the outcomes their institutions deliver; universities are encouraged to be more entrepreneurial, develop diverse revenue streams and operate highly differentiated service platforms; and the board is intensely focused on meeting state needs through smart growth of their university system.
Developing the enterprise framework was no small feat, but the results have been huge, generating real momentum for public education in Arizona, as seen through the board's enhanced partnerships, strengthened legislative support, dynamic brand platform and a growing grassroots coalition focused on statewide educational attainment.
The framework has been foundational to key achievements over the last three years, including the development of a new state-funding model to support resident students; a new, actionable strategic plan with embedded quality markers and key performance metrics; enhanced data analysis and improved reporting; revamped board processes and streamlined policies, including a new operational and financial review cycle; and three distinct university business plans that further differentiate their university missions and support the goals of the enterprise. We also have reaped real success and growth with our aggressive 2025 goals to increase performance in key outcomes for the state.
While I am proud of our achievements, I know that there is still more work to be done.
Solidifying support for our new resident-student funding model and postsecondary attainment hold key opportunities for our state in terms of workforce development. Further regulatory reform will allow for additional operating flexibility of our university system - allowing us to grow strategically and with more agility. Increasing state-based financial aid, encouraging additional research infrastructure and improving K-12 outcomes all will help to bolster productivity and progress for our enterprise and make Arizona a better place to live and work.
Finally, beyond public investment and additional regulatory reform, we need to create greater alignment of the entire P-20 educational system to better support a college- and career-ready culture in Arizona and to ensure that all students, by the time they enter our universities, are equipped to succeed.
Removing the figurative pebble from our shoe has been the main exercise at the Arizona Board of Regents these last three years, as we worked to define what it meant to operate Arizona's public university system as an enterprise for the betterment of our state. Through all of this transformation, our mission remains unchanged: to deliver the best possible university education to the greatest number of Arizona students.
It has been my great honor to lead this charge as part of the board, a trusted resource in Arizona, and together with the university presidents, all of whom have made significant strides in strengthening public higher education in the state.
Governing with purpose, we are ready for the future.
We are ready to climb those mountains...