Entrepreneurial Colleges Must Look Beyond Campus To Maximize Resources
Public/private Partnerships can be Utilized by Entrepreneurial College Leaders
Educators are dedicated to transforming lives. We are committed to providing our students with the greatest academic opportunities and support possible even when resources are limited. For community college leaders, making good on these commitments to students has been incredibly challenging as tough economic times have forced us to look under every rock and in every cranny for additional money to pay for class sections and necessary student services.
In California, where the 112 community colleges had been serving 2.9 million students, the colleges suffered cutbacks over five years that slashed funding by $1.5 billion, reducing enrollment by more than half a million students, just when the economy—and the students—most needed the education and training programs provided by the colleges. In an environment of unstable or declining resources, leaders must think entrepreneurially in order to protect important programs and services. Even as funding is being restored, colleges must maximize resources to support the core mission of the institution.
Public/private partnerships can be utilized by entrepreneurial college leaders to generate or to redirect resources in ways that better serve students. At the San Bernardino Community College District (SBCCD), for example, we have been able, with the aid of experts in energy management, to save more than $1.35 million over the past 25 months, money desperately needed to serve students and balance budgets. Even better, we can now anticipate those levels of projected savings to help make our future budgets more efficient. Our energy savings are projected to exceed $7.75 million by 2022.
The SBCCD has two colleges that now serve more than 40,000 students a year. The state economy is finally rebounding and upcoming budgets look positive, but we are still dedicated to managing our resources wisely and to finding creative ways to help support our mission-critical areas to better serve students and improve our student success rates. Finding those creative ways may mean looking to professionals outside our institutions.
The American Association for Community Colleges (AACC), which advocates for the nearly 1,200 associatedegree granting institutions that enroll almost half of all U.S. undergraduates, launched its 21st Century Initiative in 2011. In its “Reclaiming the American Dream” report, AACC challenged the colleges with an ambitious goal of educating an additional five million students with degrees, certificates, or other credentials by 2020, a massive undertaking by any measure. The initiative perceives a new reality: that community colleges can provide millions of diverse and often underserved students with a high-quality, cost-efficient, college education, helping to address the issues of the nation’s prosperity and global competitiveness by preparing students for real jobs paying family-supporting wages.
One of the recommendations of the 21st Century Initiative is to “target public and private investments strategically.”
What does this recommendation mean for college leaders in the day-to-day balancing of revenue and expenses? How can public-private partnerships leverage college resources? The leaders at SBCCD needed to look at each aspect of our budget and consider where we might find savings not previously imagined. Fortunately, we were able to partner with Cenergistic, an energy conservation company, which enabled us to control costs while furthering our pledge to improve our local environment.
Leaders must to be thorough in their review of potential partnerships, including appropriate reference checking. The Cenergistic client base included many school districts and institutions of higher education, so we knew we would be in good company. Unlike energy savings programs that rely on expensive investments in alternative energy technology, the Cenergistic/SBCCD partnership relies on measurement tools and energy-demand reduction behaviors that are unique and which supplement the other energy-savings strategies most commonly adopted by community colleges.
The partnership also aligned with my own values as a leader. Personally and philosophically, I have been committed for many years to the concepts integral to environmental sustainability. In January 2012, the SBCCD Board of Trustees adopted a Sustainability Plan crafted by our district-wide work group. The plan articulated the district’s commitment to adapting sustainability principles to our local conditions and needs.
Integrating sustainability into our strategic planning allowed us to responsibly utilize resources to meet the needs of our current students and employees without compromising our ability to serve future students and employees.
The SBCCD has taken a very businesslike approach to cutting costs through energy savings — but not at the expense of our students or employees. Safety and comfort are still the measurements that matter. And by focusing on energy efficiency, the optimal utilization of the energy we use, and with the support of the district staff, faculty, students and administrators, we have successfully created an “energy conservation culture” district-wide. The development of this “culture” has required substantial education of our campus communities.
The sustainability program relies on a district-wide energy manager, provided and trained by Cenergistic in the methods of the program, and who has the interpersonal skills needed to motivate staff to change their behaviors in order to generate substantial savings through longterm changes. The private partner, Cenergistic, is not paid as most consultants are compensated; instead the company receives a percentage of the verified savings their expertise generates during the first five years of the partnership.
College deans, staff, and faculty in the classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and other facilities work together to monitor energy use, while ensuring that educational needs continue to be met in comfort. SBCCD measures electricity, water, sewer and gas usage and Cenergistic continues to identify energy conservation opportunities throughout our facilities.
Activities on our San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC) campus provide an excellent example of the power of this public/private partnership. Cenergistic used its technical and engineering expertise to help our maintenance staff identify the root causes for ventilation and humidity problems that were causing wasteful energy use in our operations. They worked with our administrative team to help them be more heedful of the impacts on energy use when scheduling summer classes and building use. These activities and the changes in the way we made operational decisions resulted in a 30 percent reduction in energy use at SBVC last summer when temperatures regularly exceeded 100 degrees, without sacrificing comfort or the educational needs of our students.
Our IT group worked with Cenergistic to create an energy webpage introduced in the spring semester. The webpage allows the entire campus community to track how its efforts to save energy are providing a positive benefit to our district through declining energy costs and more efficient use of natural resources.
Through its energy conservation efforts with Cenergistic, the district as a whole has reduced its electric consumption in the first 25 months of the program by almost 45 million BTU’s — the equivalent of 2,789 metric tons of greenhouse gases or the planting of over 71,500 trees grown for 10 years.
SBCCD has also leveraged the funding from our Measure M bond passed in 2008 for capital improvements to further support the implementation of our Sustainability Plan. The sorely needed new facilities and renovations on both campuses are now at the heart of much of our environmental conservatorship. Great attention to detail in both design and construction is necessary to ensure such significant energy conservation, but our architects and contractors have all honored our commitment to the environment.
The sun shines almost every day in San Bernardino County and the SBCCD leadership also capitalized on that environmental advantage. We used bond funding and partnerships with California Community Colleges-Investor Owned Utilities (CCC-IOU) Partnership incentive program and others to build one of the largest solar farms in California at Crafton Hills College in 2011. The solar farm will ultimately produce 90 to 95 percent of that campus’ electrical energy needs and has achieved about $950,000 in energy savings over the past 17 months, savings tracked on a dashboard and beyond the $1.35 million saved through the Cenergistic partnership. We also sell back excess electricity for about $50,000 per year.
The SBCCD has received community recognition for both the fiscal and the environmental benefits these changes have generated. For instance, we received LEED certification on a new construction project, the Chemistry and Physical Science Building at SBVC. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” a program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to set a benchmark for design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings.
In November, our district was honored for our Leadership in Energy Conservation at the Green California Schools and Community Colleges Summit. Green Technology, the summit host, is a non-profit focused on providing a forum at which government officials can communicate with those in the private sector who are developing, implementing and distributing green technologies.
Changing the mindset of the thousands of employees and students in the SBCCD has not been an easy task, but it is imperative that we continue to focus on making better the world in which we spend the greatest part of each day, now and for the future. That we are able to do so for less money is icing on the cake. We remain committed to long-term sustainability in order to ensure that we educate our students in wonderful facilities and work in safe, comfortable conditions. We would encourage education leaders across the country to become more entrepreneurial in their thinking and to consider the advantages of leveraging public/private partnerships and becoming more focused on environmental sustainability as a way to redirect scarce resources.