EAB’s Paul Gunther is joined by Missouri State University Provost John Jasinski to talk through a highly successful transformation effort that resulted in more than $5 million in cost savings at MSU without cutting staff or programs.
The two discuss how MSU leadership earned the cooperation and support from faculty and other university stakeholders. They also share advice for other institutional leaders on how to avoid common pitfalls and build flexibility into the strategic plan for any transformation project of this magnitude.
0:00:10.7 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. We're joined today by a higher Ed leader who recently led a wildly successful academic realignment effort at Missouri State University. He's going to walk through the process improvements that led to millions in cost savings and an overwhelmingly positive reaction from students, staff, and faculty. Give this episode a listen and enjoy.
0:00:42.4 Paul Gunther: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Paul Gunther and I'm Principal Strategic Lead for Research Partner Success. I have the privilege of working with campus leaders on what are often seemingly intractable problems, which makes it all the more meaningful when we can celebrate their successes. Today we're going to discuss an area of university operations that even when it's handled well and achieves its stated goals, may still earn criticism from some quarters. The subject is academic realignment and cost savings. When done well, realignment balances and institution's historical mission with current day realities and ever-evolving student interests while serving as a steward for long-term sustainability. We're fortunate today to have with us an individual who recently led a highly successful transformation effort that has to date generated more than 5 million in cost savings, and that has garnered a great deal of support from the likes of the institution's, board of governors, president, academic and administrative leaders, and faculty and staff across the university. I'm pleased to introduce Missouri State University Provost, John Jasinski. Welcome to Office Hours, John.
0:01:52.6 John Jasinski: Well, thank you Paul. It's a pleasure to be here.
0:01:55.5 PG: John, for the benefit of listeners who don't know much about academic realignment and cost savings and why can be so challenging, would you mind sharing why these types of initiatives can often create anxiety across campus before they even start?
0:02:07.9 JJ: We all know change and the unknown is quite often difficult for many. And as a newcomer to Missouri State University in the summer of 2022, faculty and the staff knew the assignment. And it was very clear cut budget, address academic realignment, ensure academic affairs processes, tools, operations were ready for 2025 and beyond. And for many, that's a lot to handle, a lot to ingest. And so it's natural to question for stories to swirl, for rumors to start. And really, as you think about that, as you think about all of the research on change management, injecting change management principles, focusing on the why, the end in mind, how you're going to do that, how you're gonna take in feedback, we tried to map all of those elements into our approach.
0:03:03.9 PG: Wow. John, any one of those would be a project in and of itself. You all did that all at once. So let's dive a little bit more into the project that you led at Missouri State. Let's just start at the beginning. What prompted the launch of the transformation plan to begin with? What was that initial mandate as you understood it?
0:03:22.7 JJ: Back in the spring of 2022, president Cliff Smart and our board of governors called for transformation across the university that charge with an academic affair was to cut specifically $3.2 million from the budget, ensure that our structures, systems, and processes were up to date and again, ready to address the future. But enrollment was part of that as well. We had a couple of years of declining enrollment and it was the number one organizational goal. So you kind of map in all that's happening within enrollment, but also saying cutting academic affairs budget, focusing on academic realignment. And there were a lot of other changes that we wanted, needed to tackle. And suffice to say there were a lot of areas that we addressed, and I can talk about those later. The early messaging for us or myself specifically was we had to be clear on the tough nature of the task at hand.
0:04:22.7 JJ: We knew it was an imperative. We had to do that and deliver, but do it in a timely and a graceful manner. 100% satisfaction was not our goal. That really was a central message. But in doing that, we followed President Smart's useful guidance, thinking about moving with urgency, being agile, being proactive, and really delivering with reliability. We talked a lot, cliff and I did, about doing all this from a position of strength, the strength of academics at Missouri State University, the strength of the university overall, what a far better position to address all this than being in crisis mode.
0:05:05.4 PG: Yeah. John, you mentioned a lot of things that you had to balance there. You had to balance some of the urgency you had to balance some competing priorities as well. And you mentioned kind of using a change management framework as part of embedding that into the process. Part of that is avoiding pitfalls. And so I'm kind of curious with that, needing to balance all of those different things, what were the biggest pitfalls that you were hoping to avoid and what did you do at the outset that got you started on the right foot?
0:05:35.1 JJ: Yeah. If you think about the process of what you do want at the beginning of a larger transformation plan and what you don't want, those pitfalls you're asking about Paul, are pretty important. And we took time to really articulate what we didn't want out of the process. Avoiding inertia was really the biggest one out of the gate. You've seen that analysis paralysis and all of that, that goes with it. We have to get through the change portion of this and do it in the right way. Making decisions with little input, avoid that moving too slow, which... Rightfully so I think academe has some of that reputation, but also moving too fast. You don't wanna really do that. So avoid that as a pitfall, not having a set of gutting principles. I've used gutting principles in a lot of different endeavors in my career and I think they're really important, especially if you keep revisiting them and making sure you are true to those guiding principles. We also wanted to avoid not using data, not thinking from a systems based perspective. And frankly, a big one for me is not invoking a growth mindset. So very important. And then finally, I'll just mention that.
0:06:53.9 JJ: Not focusing at administration, academic administration. Just going straight to departments, schools and colleges. No, we had to focus on provost office and the academic administrative part of all of this. And then not focusing so much on the various changes that we would lose a focus on an enrollment growth. We had a lot to address, but we had to make sure that we kept enrollment right in front of us. So in the end, our goal was to really shape a learning organization, that mindset that's repeatable, scalable and meaningful, really about culture, strategic discipline. Paul, you and I have talked that off...
0:07:33.1 JJ: About that offline quite often, that discipline piece is so very important, seeking the understanding from so many, thinking about strategies and applying those first, and then focusing on your strengths, being data-informed using that framework for decision making and always thinking through implementation over implications, and I really want to focus on that is, every time we were thinking about changes, about new structures, about cutting budget, we try to understand downstream effects, third order effects, to play that out and say, "What does this mean on the implementation or execution side." And then I'll just mention a couple of other areas briefly.
0:08:15.5 JJ: We knew we needed help. It couldn't be just John, the Deans and others. But we took in a lot of help. EAB was one of our helpers, frankly. Information from your financial performance collaborative. You guys, your team provided guidance on performance metrics, provided all kinds of research, and we're very thankful for that. Our own e-factory, that assists entrepreneurs and business owners helped us on process redesign. Our enrollment, academic...
0:08:45.7 JJ: And academic change teams have provided some help, and we've received a lot of help from the likes of our faculty and staff Senates. I'll even go a step further and say, I asked for the help of one of our Deans, Mark Smith, in developing a qualitative-based study that I can get into in a few minutes. So a lot of excellent help. At the end of the day though, we also created a Dean's team that truly was a team and if you use Tuckman's model, forming, storming, norming and performing, that team went through those stages in a very authentic, but I'm talking about an incredibly fast faction, and so the Dean's team provided a huge amount of help.
0:09:27.7 PG: It's a ton to get off on the right foot on, right? And when you think about just the number of inputs that you talked about, like you said, you had to keep coming back to those guiding principles. You all hardwired those guiding principles as well under kind of that... If I'm remembering the acronym, I think it was CAP, can you talk a little bit about kind of how you hardwire those driving principles and how that plays out today?
0:09:49.8 JJ: That's great, thank you for asking about that, because CAP, what we call the Continuous Agility Process was so very, very important. Systematic process, ongoing, supposed to keep academic affairs fresh, relevant, market-savvy. The process though, if you think about the words, Continuous Agility Process [laughter] It's continuous ongoing, but also not to be agile. Some elements that were provided as focal points back in the early part of 2022, 2023 academic year, some parts of that were maybe elevated throughout the year. But as we went on, we needed to say, "Let's slow down on a few of the other areas." That's the agility part to all of that.
0:10:34.2 JJ: The work streams, we had significant work streams, five of them, that we said, "These are the broader areas we're going to work on." Then we had some outputs, 11 total underneath each one of those work streams, and those work streams spanned from enrollment to budget and re-alignment, measurement, and certainly processes and approaches, the CAP is really... If you think about a playbook, it's been a playbook for not just yours truly, but for our Dean's team and everyone else, and so very transparent, this is what the focus of our meetings are going to be, the focus of our action. We've reported progress throughout the year to all of our major stakeholder groups, we've created the CAP for 2023, 2024, it has four work streams and 20 intended outputs, they'll be prioritized throughout the years, some will outweigh it, some will de-escalate, if you will. And if I can, I'll just kind of briefly mentioned our guiding principles. Paul, you have articulated that those were so very important to us, they were.
0:11:39.7 JJ: For reducing budget, our guiding principles were really to focus on student learning and student success at the forefront, focus both on academic administration as well as colleges and departments. And when I went out early on, I made sure I said, "We're going to start with, in terms of looking at budgets, academic administration." We wanted to make sure we were data-informed and again, being clear about the tough task at hand. Those really were the guiding principles for reducing budget. For realignment, again, focusing on student success, but as we listen throughout the months into the fall of 2022 and then throughout spring in of 2023, we really got clear that we had to recognize the context of our academic units, what's happening on the ground, what's happening in terms of teaching, research and service, student interactions. What's the context of those? Understand that before you just jump into re-alignment. We also wanted to raise the academic profile as we were looking at re-alignment, the profile of our departments, of our schools, of our colleges, and then we wanted to make sure that collaboration was put out front and respecting the culture of our academic units.
0:12:55.4 JJ: So all told those principles guided us. We always came back and revisited those. And we kept talking about continuous evolution changes now, but also it's not just one and done. And we won't wait, five, 10, or 15 years to do it, but we'll do it continuously.
0:13:15.5 PG: John, there's so much to unpack there, there's so much great insight in what you just shared. One of the things that really stands out, in your comments was one, you have this very detailed plan. You have a playbook that you're using. And I think what's interesting to me in that is it's the same playbook that you are sharing out with the board of governors with the cabinet as well as with the dean's team, the faculty and the staff senate. So there's one consistent message, there's one playbook people are working off of. It also strikes me, I think that emphasis you made on differentiating between reducing budget and realignment efforts is a really important one. I think those often get conflated when they really have different goals and different outcomes.
0:13:56.6 PG: And you talked about your comments around working with the dean's team and those other bodies really stands out, right? There's a governance component and a trust building component that you needed to have early on for that buy-in. So I wanna move towards that qualitative component a little bit as well. What were some of the ways that you found most useful breaking through some of those traditional hierarchy or org charts to ensure that the messages that you wanted to get out there, that they were reaching those most impacted. And, talk a little bit more about kind of gathering that feedback, as directly as possible.
0:14:31.8 JJ: Paul, you mentioned one area that I wanna make sure I come back to you. And you said sometimes colleagues might conflate academic realignment and budget reductions. And in fact, coming in early, as I reflect, I think people heard cut budget, academic realignment. Oh my gosh, we're going to blow up the system. I wanna make sure that I agree with and uplift what you said. We tried not to conflate those because we knew we had to cut budget, but we felt like early on that we had such strengths that if we could kind of reconfigure the system, realign the system, we could actually raise the academic profile of academic programs. So, I wanted to make sure I say that and then I'll kind of walk into what we did. You talk about the qualitative steps and involving different units and so on.
0:15:30.0 JJ: I'll start with the Dean's team. New name for the deans, maybe we had dean's council before or whatever, but I wanted to make sure that we were going to approach all of the work as a dean, Dean's team and reconceptualizing the work with that team was really important. Analysis decision making was a team approach and still is today. And that's how we're rolling into the next academic year. We worked with our faculty senate and staff senate executive committees, and of course the full senates as well. But, well a lot of conversations there. I visited with, and my colleagues did the faculty senate monthly. We created a one year, what we called academic disruptors, steering team, and that word disruption disruptors really, for some loved it. And others like, oh my gosh, what are we doing here? So that was part of this as well.
0:16:25.4 JJ: But as we looked at realignment, we really thought through basically three phases. Phase one, which was in late 2022, and again, gathering feedback, providing analysis, we combined two colleges. That was the first thing we did out of the gate. And we also subsumed some of our so-called access and outreach functions throughout academic affairs. That was phase one, late 2022. It introduced change into the system, but we had a lot of studying to do. I think some of the common thought processes were that I knew what I wanted to do on realignment, or the deans did, we should have just made decisions back in the fall of 2022. And I kept saying, I don't have something scribbled on my desk or on my whiteboard that says this is exactly what we're going to do, and that's the truth.
0:17:19.8 JJ: So in phase two, we really took in a qualitative based approach. Again, Dean Mark Smith, myself created this process where we had eight process steps that we followed January through May of 2023. That variety of input, ideation, and feedback was brought in through the dean's team. Each one of the deans had a role in this, but so did various leaders. The process steps, I won't, it's kind of a lot of getting into the weeds, but the process steps, really included data collection, data analysis, some member checking and the like. But we yielded from that process eight data points, data points from a town hall and submission link where people could just write in what they're thinking and possibilities for realignment. We asked departments and schools and programs to provide an exercise and think through realignment and asked them questions such as, if you were to be realigned, where might it make the most sense?
0:18:24.4 JJ: If you were not going to be realigned, why? Why shouldn't that be part of the process? And then three, asking them, what else, that you want to offer. So we had all kinds of conversations with faculty, with department heads and school directors, with frankly all the support systems. And I say all, it seems like it probably didn't catch everybody, but we got through a lot of formal and a lot of informal conversations. And I need to emphasize that because all of the deans, all the academic leaders, coffee sessions and sessions after hours and all that, just listening. So, I think there's the formal part of this qualitative research and there's these informal part, it brought us through a lot of data points. We looked through those as an academic team. We took in all this feedback, got to a decision point, didn't please everybody, of course, but we considered all viewpoints. And now we're rolling into phase three, which is implementation of the changes and still some decisions yet to be made.
0:19:33.8 PG: John, it's striking to me that this is one component of the work happening at Missouri State. Right? For the overall transformation plan. There's also work that's happening in enrollment and all these other spots. And so to hear the process that you all went through kind of laid out is really thoughtful. You also mentioned it's continuous. So again, having this process by collecting the information, collecting the feedback directly, being able to share that back out and tell folks how information and the suggestions were used was such an important ingredient to keep that buy-in, to keep that momentum going, because there was a ton of change happening all at once, even if it was being done in a very thoughtful way. So let's get into what came out of it a little bit. Here is this huge process very thoughtful, very intentional. When you think about some of the specific gaps and the inefficiencies then that came out of it that rose to the top, what did you and the leadership decide you were going to address? What did that look like?
0:20:33.7 JJ: We were asked to cut $3.2 million up front, examine and enhance academic administrative efficiency, analyze the number of departments and colleges that we had schools within and ready academic affairs for today's and tomorrow's needs. President Smart and I talked early on about the importance of cutting beyond the $3.2 million, and I wanna make sure I emphasize that to you. And certainly those listening that in talking with the deans, I wanted to make sure that we had a pool of money for reinvestment. Can't cut our way to prosperity. So while we were cutting $3.2 we had many different goals, but we ultimately ended up with a goal of 5 million. So we could have a million eighth for reinvestment. That's a stretch for some. Right? Like, why don't we just cut the three, two and go on. But as we talked through that, people understood the importance of that.
0:21:30.5 JJ: That's part of the growth mindset that I had mentioned earlier. And it's also part of building out the many, many strengths that we have in academic affairs. So we knew that we had to be, judicious analytical. We had to carefully examine every part of the academic affairs budget. And so you have budget officers and I can cite so many names and so many people who dive in and really understand what are we using monies for the ROI of that and that goal of $5 million. We knew that we had to show that we were going to focus on administration, academic administration in a very big way. And we also heard early on that we had to refine several systems and processes. So there was the academic cut part of this, especially on administration side, but also trying to refine processes and systems that would free up time, if not monies.
0:22:30.1 PG: Well, I wanna go into a little bit more detail on that point, John, you all led with kind of walking the walk. Right? Getting your own house in order, really focusing on academic administration first. And I think that was a huge, hugely important to achieving some of the outcomes. Right? One of the biggest fears. We talked about that at the beginning with any sort of academic realignment effort is you're gonna end up with cutting programs or reducing faculty positions. And so you all were really intentional about that. Can you say a little bit more about how did you address those issues at Missouri State.
0:23:00.0 JJ: We talk about faculty cuts and reductions and program cuts. The president and I made it very clear that that was simply not on the table. Well, you know this whole topic of looking at budget, it's real, it's happening in this country and the likes of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and so many other areas and really beyond the country. And as you think about university budget cuts and, here we're talking about academic budget cuts, faculty reductions, academic program reductions usually are just put out there. And put up forefront on the table. President Smart and I made it very clear from the get go that we were going to not have that on the table. That we had to be creative, look at academic administration and other elements. And that's why it was so important to us to, really dig in to be analytical, but also think about stop doing what are some areas, processes, systems that we really weren't using to the best of our ability that maybe were costing us money, time, and resources.
0:24:15.0 JJ: So the Stop Doing piece, which I think is many times skipped in these kinds of processes, was so very important to us. The CAP, the Continuous Agility Process helped guide us through that. I can't say enough about the work of the dean's team. The deans really were the workhorses in this. They were the kind of the strategizer, the thinkers and the doers. And I say that, but there's so many people involved with that. It's a web of people and organizations that really allow us to realize what we did. But this whole realignment piece, the budget adjustments came down to us focusing on protecting our academic core, protecting field faculty lines faculty, and really more holistically the faculty positions that really serve as the conduit to changing student needs and especially addressing efficiency within academic administration.
0:25:16.1 PG: Yeah, I think that's what stands out to me about what makes the transformation plan that makes your work so distinct, and so successful on campuses being clear from the upfront what was on the table and what was off of it. And I think that generated some real momentum and we talked about kind of building that trust at the, beginning for what can be an anxious process. And so I think that clear communication upfront was a big part of that.
0:25:43.3 PG: Huge undertaking. I want to get to some of the, kind of what some of the big wins were that you can point to, right? Let's fast forward, we're about, what, about a year later. After the initial onset of this work, which gosh, it went by in a flash, but what are some of the big wins that you can point to now a year later in terms of the way that transformation has benefited student, faculty, staff, the institution, and maybe a little bit on what's the work that still remains?
0:26:11.2 JJ: Yeah, it's probably a longer answer. I'll kind of cut it into pieces maybe, because when you talk about, what are some of the big wins, well over that 10 month period, because really the first month to getting into Missouri State, you're just listening getting to know kinda where locations are and all of that. And we rolled this out in May, so really September through May. Wow. It really, truly is amazing what was accomplished, creating Missouri State's academic affairs as the strategic enterprise took everybody's help, right? But we reallocated and invested in academics. We have a pool of monies, 1.8 million to invest, focusing on the growth mindset, raising our academic profile across colleges, schools, and departments. And I've got lots of examples across all of our colleges that I could provide to uplift our various programs and evidence that that's working with regard to not just enrollment but so much more. Creating new programs out of that, combining programs into some offerings that are better for students, just very, very specific examples.
0:27:00.5 JJ: Significant commitments related to employee compensation investing in Provost fellows. We created three provost fellow positions focusing on research, a new advising system, selecting a new data warehouse, EAB's Edify specifically, but also we have talked with the president about putting together a pool of $5 million in classroom redesign and technologies. I can't stop there, Paul. I have to talk about really that fund for academic reinvestment, the $1.8 million. And I think that's just so important that we came out of this having monies to focus on growth, solidifying our enrollment strategies. As we do this interview today, we're looking at above 20% in terms of first time, full-time freshmen from last year. Our student credit hours are up. We're very, very thankful because we didn't just focus on all these other changes and forget about enrollment as I talked about earlier. So those are at least some areas, I've got more to kind of mention if you have time. So.
0:28:37.4 PG: I think we've got a couple of minutes to go. What really strikes you as some of these other big wins?
0:28:42.5 JJ: Throughout the transformation process? We reinforced our commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and the success for all. We are revamping our advising structure. We studied selected, and now we're in the midst of transitioning to a new learning management system. And think about that. I heard from people just selecting a new learning management system and implementing that as well all the data warehouse in and of themselves could have been it. But here I continue with a variety of bigger wins. We re-conceptualized the office of the provost, refined committees, reduced provost level committees. We had many provost level committees. We reduced them by over 20%. Again, stopped doing, trying to open up time, free time for everybody, injected any number of process improvements. In fact, we were also asked to look at our academic affairs policy library, and we're kind of at the, hopefully the back end of that right now. We did all this Paul and avoided program eliminations. We protected filled faculty lines.
0:30:00.5 JJ: We protected administrative assistant positions. As we looked at reconfiguring schools and departments, we reduced administrators 14 and all. And we have more to do. We have some study groups this year. We have more implementation going on, and we also think there's a little bit more restructuring within the colleges. So at the end of the day, president Smart talked about introducing the transformation plan or the transformation plan being in full force in a very, very short amount of time. And I'd be remiss if I don't talk about this being a team game, because I've mentioned deans and others that were part of this department heads, school directors, faculty, faculty senate, and the like, but our teammates across the university have been flat out, incredible. Think about changes, Paul, for you've seen this throughout many organizations.
0:32:00.4 JJ: Small, large, public, private, and the like. But you make a decision and it impacts [laughter] everybody else throughout the structure, right? The likes of the registrar's office, enrollment management, marketing communication, finance facilities, university advancement, general counsel's office, human resources, IT information to services. I mean I can go on and on and on. Those are only some examples. But the work of those offices was real. And the impacts in those office and you stopping and talk to them, see them on the sidewalk, and you know that you made some decisions that's really changing their workload and they're just delivering through and through. So I just can't be thankful enough, cannot say thank you enough to all those involved because it truly, truly was an institutional effort. You have to have the lead in support of the president, the board of Governors. And at the end of the day, it's really about the culture of focusing on student success, academic excellence, our public affairs mission, being ingrained in what we do and focusing on continuous improvement, growth mindset, and ultimately.
0:32:00.5 JJ: Really that whole piece on continuous evolution, knowing that this isn't it, that we will continue evolving and growing.
0:32:08.5 PG: Oh, John, I know that we've barely scratched the surface here for all of the work that went into the academic transformation. And I do wanna celebrate that success to you and to the entire Missouri State team, as you just mentioned. This part wasn't just within Academic Affairs, this was kind of all hands on deck and everyone kind of saw how they contributed to it and really worked together to make that possible. We've got about a minute left here, but I wanna ask you, maybe if you can draw out some of those important lessons that you learned from this work and what advice you would offer to listeners at other schools who may be contemplating or already are undertaking similar types of realignments.
0:32:48.4 JJ: Well, first of all, and I've kind of mention some of these throughout, but kind of summarizing. Articulate the end in mind, systems thinking, put it forward a based approach with guidelines, being agile throughout because we changed, we didn't just have a plan and stuck with it, we changed throughout, having that presidential engagement and board support is paramount, being results-driven and knowing that results mean that you have to define the processes and deployment thereof. Paul, I've talked a lot about focusing on strengths, I think it's very, very important to do that. Developing those strategies and tactics, being data-informed to do that, seeking help and involving many, being decisive, being self-aware.
0:33:31.3 JJ: And I think that's important too to point out. You need to know when to push, when to pull back, and monitoring energy and capacity for change and knowing that you have ongoing systems and processes and changes, tracking those to know what you're doing and making sure that you follow through on those closing a loop. But the advice also is, no perfect pathway. 100% consensus is really not the goal either. And communication, absolutely key. We had a series of presentations throughout the process, talent halls, we had frequently asked questions that we post at the website, carried out any number of meetings with small, large groups, individuals, highlighted what we accomplished, but also keeping the focus on academic excellence is part of the advice. As well as ensuring you celebrate the existing culture of teaching, research and service, in our case, the state-wide mission of public affairs. At the end of the day, Paul, we are exuberant about what Academic Affairs produces at Missouri State, and we are quite excited for the future.
0:34:40.6 PG: John, I wanna thank you so much for your time today to share your advice with our listeners, but I also wanna thank you for the opportunity to work with you and your team on accomplishing many of these outcomes. It really is a privilege to work with you all of, I know I've shared that with you directly, but you guys have a great leadership team, you have that, you have clarity on what your strategy is, what your strengths are, and you have those guiding principles that I think has really powered so much of this works. So, thank you for your time and for sharing your insights today.
0:35:12.2 JJ: Well, thank you. Thanks to you and your team for your assistance throughout, and appreciate sharing all the good things happening at Missouri State University.
0:35:26.3 S1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week, where we hear from two of our enrollment experts who discuss findings from a recent EAB poll that identified the top five concerns keeping enrollment leaders up at night. Until next week, thank you for your time.
Don't miss a beat
Visit our podcast homepage for additional episodes, information on our expert contributors, and more.