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129
By KathyWitkowsky
Denver, Colorado
M
etropolitan State College of Denver
President StephenM. Jordan didn’t have to look far to
find a playbook for dealing with the current recession.
It sits on his bookshelf, in the form of a large black binder that
contains materials from a graduate course he taught for seven
years at EasternWashington University, where he also served
as president.
As part of the course entitled “Administrators as Change
Agents,” Jordan laid out two different strategies for coping
with financial stress.
The first: Resist. In other words, continue, inasmuch as
possible, to do business as usual. That, Jordan said, is the path
to take if you think the financial crunch is short-term.
But if you suspect that the fiscal crisis you face is long-
term, the better option, Jordan said, is the second of the two
strategies: “Realign your institution.” Translation: Suck it
up and make the changes that are necessary to ensure your
organization can survive in the new environment. That’s
the tack that Metro State is taking—or is trying to take, said
Jordan, explaining why he chose not to rely on stimulus
monies to backfill state budget cuts.
“I’ve had this philosophical construct in my mind for
a very long time,” Jordan said during a recent interview.
But when the state of Colorado began to suffer from the
economic downturn, the exercise was no longer an academic
one. “Now I’ve found
myself having to live it.”
First, Jordan asked
himself: How long is
this recession likely
to last? “I concluded
that this was long-
term, and that I really
needed to realign the
organization,” he said.
Given that Metro
State was already the
lowest funded four-year
institution in one of the
nation’s lowest funded
states, making further
cuts was not going to
be easy. But Jordan
didn’t waver from his
conclusion, even when
he found out that federal stimulus funding would temporarily
cover the entire shortfall from the state.
“I never had a doubt in my mind that we needed to do
this,” said Jordan. So the next question he asked himself was
May 2010
Investing the Stimulus
Metropolitan State College of Denver uses federal funding to reposition itself for the future
this: “How can we use
the stimulus money
to make investments
that will leave this
institution better off?”
One historical
lesson Jordan had
absorbed came from
the recession of the
1970s, when, he said,
higher education
administrators missed
an opportunity to
substitute technology
for labor because they
didn’t have the cash.
With stimulus dollars
at his disposal, Jordan
determined that he
was not going to make
the same mistake.
Quickly, he set the
wheels in motion to
improve the school’s
use of technology.
Thirty-seven projects,
ranging from creating
a bilingual website,
to tracking student
success, to creating an in-house call center for fundraising,
are now in the works as part of the school’s “Rightsizing with
Technology” initiative. Some of the projects are expected to
save or even generate money, while others are intended to
improve the overall student and faculty experience, which,
the thinking goes, should ultimately benefit the institution
through improved retention and graduation rates.
Metro State is also using stimulus funds for an innovative
retirement-incentive program for senior faculty, which will
save money, and has fast-tracked plans to offer master’s
degree programs, which are expected to make money.
“Once this whole thing came down, and we started
talking about the stimulus money, it didn’t take long for Steve
to say, ‘All we, and every other institution, are doing is putting
off the inevitable—because eventually the stimulus money is
going to go away,’” recalled Robert Cohen, vice chair of Metro
State’s board of trustees. “So rather than take the money and
do business as usual, and then fall off the cliff in a year or two,
he said, ‘Why don’t we take this money and use it to retool
ourselves?’”
In hindsight, Jordan’s approach may seem like a no-
brainer. But Dennis Jones, president of the National Center
Stephen M. Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College
of Denver, chose not to rely on federal stimulus monies to
backfill state budget cuts.
Thirty-seven projects,
ranging from
creating a bilingual
website to tracking
student success, are
now in the works
as part of Metro
State’s “Rightsizing
with Technology”
initiative.
Photos by Eric Lars Bakke, Black Star, for CrossTalk