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The greatness of an institution always begins with people. - Jim Collins

Last spring RUSO Regents Connie Reilly, Mark Stansberry and I, joined more than 1000 higher education leaders to attend the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges National Conference. The keynote speaker author Jim Collins presented his monograph "Good To Great and the Social Sectors -- Why Business Thinking Is Not The Answer." Collins explained that while the business and social sectors have different missions, they are identical in exhibiting the qualities of a great organization. "A great organization is one that delivers superior performance while making a distinctive impact over a long period of time."

For a business, financial returns are a legitimate measure of performance. For a public university, however, performance must be assessed relative to mission—not financial returns. The critical question is not how much money was earned per dollar of invested capital, but the effectiveness of delivering our mission and making a distinctive impact, relative to our resources. We were inspired by Collins’ presentation and decided to apply his philosophy to our six regional universities.

The universities comprising the Regional University System of Oklahoma are currently faced with many challenges including decreased state funding and increasing costs of providing a high quality, accessible and affordable higher education to students. In addition, we are facing challenges in enrollment, retention, remediation, student credit-hour production and graduation rates. Despite these challenges, I remain unequivocally convinced that we are a great system of higher education.

Superior Results

According to Collins, there are three criteria for a great organization: superior results, distinctive impact and lasting endurance. Our superior results stem from the 40,000 students enrolled in our system. RUSO universities are the engine that creates the educated workforce in Oklahoma. Nearly 40 percent of all Oklahoma graduates come from RUSO institutions and 91 percent stay in Oklahoma after graduation.

Distinctive Impact

The second criterion is "distinctive impact." According to Collins, "A truly great enterprise makes such a unique contribution to the communities it touches, and does its work with such unadulterated excellence that, if it were to disappear, it would leave a gaping hole that could not easily be filled by any other institution on the planet." I am proud to say each regional university is and shall continue to have a pronounced and distinctive impact in their respective communities and upon the state.

Circle 1: Passion – Understanding what your organization stand for (its core value) and why it exists (its mission or core purpose).

Circle 2: Best at – Understanding what your organization can uniquely contribute to the people it touches, better than any other organization on the planet.

Circle 3: Resource engine – Understanding what best drives your resource engine, broken into three parts: time, money and brand.

Good to Great and the Social Sectors (p. 19) Used with permission.

Lasting Endurance

The third criterion is "lasting endurance"-even in the face of setbacks. All RUSO institutions were established more than a century ago and the governing board was elevated to constitutional status nearly 70 years ago. Some of us have had setbacks that are hard to fathom today as recorded in the book "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan. But, we have endured. The task before us now is how to create lasting endurance and thrive in an evolving climate of academic excellence.

As a result, RUSO regents and presidents have committed to meet these challenges by addressing the fundamental questions posed in "Good To Great" throughout this year. We began the process at the annual regents’ retreat in July. We invited chief academic affairs officers and business officers of each RUSO university along with regents and presidents. Mickey Hepner, Dean of the UCO School of Business, facilitated the retreat. The retreat included a frank discussion of the brutal facts facing higher education and whether we have a culture of trust which allows employees to share the brutal facts as they see them. Since, as Collins’ aptly stated, "The greatness of an institution always begins with people," we invite you to participate in this conversation by continually emailing your great ideas, suggestions, potential collaborations and opportunities for efficiency, or submit them on our website by clicking here. I look forward to tackling the work ahead of us together to further advance our regional universities’ greatness.

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