Associated Colleges of the South
Associated Colleges of the South
Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.
The Associated Colleges of the South emerged out of the genuine needs and interests of the member institutions whose leaders believed that a collaborative effort could strengthen their academic programs and produce administrative efficiencies that would not be possible for the institutions acting on their own. A decisive reason for its 20 years of success is that these comparable and compatible institutions were the creators and owners of this new initiative and as a consequence made every effort to make it succeed. It also emerged after two years of extensive deliberation and planning, during which time they paid particular attention to crafting a clear mission statement, identifying the top priorities for the programs that fit within the mission and goals of the group, developing an appropriate structure for the organization – a highly de-centralized one –and identifying the most effective ways of evaluating individual initiatives and the overall work of the consortium. They also began paying dues two years before a president was hired and a full-scale of activities was initiated, thereby providing the organization with the necessary funds to test and experiment with the new ideas that the institutions wanted to operationalize.
The institutional presidents and chief academic officers decided on the management structure that suited the group and the goals the institutions had uppermost in mind. They decided on a highly de-centralized structure, with individual institutions taking the lead on the individual programs offered (spreading the opportunities and responsibilities among all the participating institutions). The staff, in particular, works very closely with approximately 80 individual groups, drawing heavily on the institutional representatives and working extremely closely with those representatives. This has turned out to be a management structure in which the institutions have a real stake in the programs and they are anxious to demonstrate how effectively their representatives can take the lead in consortial initiatives. For example, staff works hand in hand with a planning committee of presidents and deans to make sure the current plan is being effectively carried out, making sure it is modified as new opportunities come to the forefront, that funding is acquired to underwrite the plan, that effective evaluation takes place and provides feedback for future consortial plans. The extensive feedback generated through this structure has enabled ACS to shore up weaknesses where they exist and build on strengths where they are in place. Continuous improvement is the objective throughout.
Many challenges face the consortium including attracting the interest of faculty and staff and students when there are so many other opportunities available to them and conveying precisely what participation in ACS programs could mean to the individuals and institutions involved. Another critical challenge is to provide the actual services that are needed and requested by the institutions – the services that can be transformational in their value and impact. In response, the consortium has worked assiduously to communicate to the 3,000 faculty members, 5,000 staff members and 30,000 students on our campuses describing the rationale for the consortium and its specific initiatives -- through the consortium’s print and on-line newsletter, the “Palladian,” on-line announcements that go to all the faculty on the campuses, ACS workshops and seminars and campus “listenings” (visits to the campuses by staff). Providing effective services has proved be the best way to confront and overcome challenges.
Solutions are arrived at by presidents and chief academic officers, in collaboration with staff, but a foundation of those solutions is provided from the campus participants and leaders of individual efforts. They are constantly called on to identify challenges and suggest appropriate responses. Being closest to the program, they typically are the best at recommending solutions.
The outcomes of a wide array of consortial programs have been measured in many ways, including the participation of faculty, students and staff in numerous seminars, conferences, and projects presented by the consortium. All of the participants in ACS activities are asked to evaluate these activities and their advice is taken very seriously. The activities of participants are tracked over time to see what new teaching techniques, what publishable research, what community service was triggered by their ACS experience. Short term and longitudinal evaluation take place. On occasion, the consortium has engaged outside consultants to perform extensive evaluations.
For example, the consortium secured funding for a three-year evaluation of its virtual department in classics, called Sunoikisis, through which various classes were offered on-line to ACS students. A professional evaluator interviewed the faculty and students involved with this program over time, examining the short-term and longer term benefits of the program.
Measuring the outcomes has indeed been very illuminating. We have learned what works and does not work, how initiatives should be structured and timed, what kind of financial resources are required, how useful pilot programs can be, what kinds of individuals provide the best kind of leadership for programs, how to prepare and train those leaders, how to sustain successful programs over time (one lesson being to prepare a plan for sustainability while the program is originally being crafted), how to develop effective working relationships with funding organizations, and how to construct a thorough and effective evaluation process and make sure it is put to use.
The ACS has provided a compelling model by demonstrating to others what a difference collaboration can make for those involved – for example, an annual micro-teaching Summer Teaching and Learning workshop, called “transformative” by faculty who that have participated, an on-line classics program deemed a “career lifeline” by the faculty involved, an environmental and sustainable development initiative making significant and systemic difference on the campuses and nearby communities, student programs in China, Turkey, Costa Rica and elsewhere that have changed lives forever, and an energy conservation initiative that saved $250,000 one campus and more elsewhere. In short, by showing significant results, by changing institutions and by changing individuals, ACS is making the case for a kind of cooperation that makes those changes possible.
We engage in very close supervision, oversight and evaluation of all programs – the evaluation being an ongoing effort conducted by project leaders, ACS staff and outside consultants to provide feedback as a project unfolds, not waiting until it is completed. Evaluation efforts, which assess whether programs meet their goals and what constructive changes take place, have been both intensive and extensive, including, for example, a three-year assessment of our Sunoikisis or virtual classics department (now in its tenth year) to determine how it might be strengthened over time. In more specific terms, the consortium has tracked courses that have been refined, new courses that have been established, student responses to these changes, joint publications by faculty, and other specific actions taken (as in the case of the environmental and sustainable development program where ACS supported 77 curriculum and faculty projects, 89 student initiatives and over 100 community efforts).
Cost Savings/Revenue Increases
The consortium has saved considerable dollars by using joint consultants – rather than having each institution hire consultants on an issue of common interest; pursuing joint course development – avoiding duplication in the process; establishing joint on-line courses that avoided the extra expense of new on-campus courses; and pursuing other joint academic initiatives. On the administrative side, savings have been considerable, as in the case of the consortium’s energy conservation model at Rollins College that saved approximately $250,000 a year on that campus – with the other fifteen campuses learning and benefiting from the Rollins experience.
All major programs of the institutions over the last twenty years have benefited from substantial grants, as the consortium has developed program plans and then presented proposals to major foundations and agencies for support. Approximately $25 million has been raised to support cooperation to advance the effective use of technology, promote library cooperation, develop information fluency among faculty and students, create programs of sustainable development and assist faculty to strengthen their teaching.
The consortium has offered a myriad of programs since it was formed, programs that would not have been affordable to institutions acting on their own. And these joint programs have paid off. To cite one example, of hundreds, a joint effort in environmental studies/sustainable development effected significant systemic change on a number of campuses. A key faculty representative indicated that the advances on his campus, which have been considerable, would not have taken place without the catalytic role played by ACS.
Quantitative services or benefits can been seen in the results of 110 individual faculty technology projects, 80 faculty renewal and rejuvenation projects and more than 100 campus and community programs enhancing the environment and sustainable development on the campuses as well as in the surrounding communities. We have also quantified benefits by noting the numbers of participants in workshops, the number involved in key projects, the numbers of new courses that have been created, the number of refined courses and modules for courses, student participants in international programs – and the payoff that has occurred as a result of such participation. For example, the 300-plus faculty participants in the consortium’s annual Summer Teaching and Learning Workshop have testified to the impact that this intense one-week pedagogical program has had – they have found it “transformative” and have improved their teaching careers as a result. The last point is a reminder of both the quantitative and qualitative changes that the consortium has produced over time.
Why Collaborate and by Whom?
The presidents and deans of the institutions decided to collaborate in order to provide better liberal arts education for their students. Through joint efforts, they realized that they could provide the increased knowledge, the enhanced understanding, the specific skills and the lessons in personal and character development that could empower them to serve the broader society after they graduated. Presidents and deans met together and drew on consultants from other consortia for advice on the preferred structure and function of the new organization.
The founders settled on a highly de-centralized system, which has contributed to the success of the collaboration by being closely aligned to campus needs and interests. By being closely linked to the institutions and overseen by committees of faculty and staff from the institutions, the consortium has developed a keen sense of institutional ownership of the consortium – and that sense of ownership has elicited active participation by faculty, staff and students in consortial programs. It is their consortium and it offers programs that are responsive to their needs.
Every program is led by an individual institution, which is responsible for bringing together representatives from the other institutions and is held accountable for the ultimate results that accrue. Consortium staff in Atlanta are actively involved in all of the projects, supporting the institutional representatives and making sure that that individual projects continue to move forward.
Many challenges have been confronted over time, such as making sure that the consortium responds to the highest priority needs of the individual institutions, enlisting full participation and leadership from faculty and staff in specific programs, raising sufficient funds to underwrite programs, among others. In addressing these problems, the ACS has focused on keeping those institutional needs uppermost and making sure that programs respond to those needs – remembering always that the overriding objective is to create the finest possible academic experience for students. Staff has met with presidents and deans extensively to make sure all participants are on the same page, responding to the principal institutional priorities that have been articulated. Participation of faculty and staff and students has been generated as a result of successful programs – as they have seen programs succeed, they have been persuaded that their participation can be very useful to them and their institutions. Fundraising has been extremely successful because plans were carefully prepared and programs were implemented that fulfilled the goals and objectives of those plans. It should be added that the consortium has never been complacent; it has always worked as vigorously as possible to enhance the strength and capabilities of the institutions.
Benefits of Collaboration
The benefits have included:
The extraordinary education of students, encompassing efforts that have stimulated faculty to teach in more creative ways – using technology effectively, for example.
New and more challenging courses and experiential learning opportunities for students,
Venues for students to apply their classroom experience in solving real problems in the broader community (particularly in environmental areas),
New opportunities for non-science majors to learn about science – a very significant milestone for the consortium and its institutions,
Outstanding cost-benefit results achieved across the board – in academic and administrative areas. On their own, the member institutions would not have been able to achieve these results.
Measurement of Success
As indicated earlier, the consortium has been able to quantify participation in the wide range of programs for faculty, staff and students and then to determine the results of that participation. Successes have been measured in new faculty development opportunities that have enabled faculty to teach more effectively, student programs that have enabled them to learn and apply their knowledge more extensively and administrative benchmarking programs that have enabled institutions to improve efficiencies and contain and reduce costs.
Why Should ACS Win the Collaboration Prize
Winning the prize would recognize an assiduous effort to make collaboration succeed, providing a role model for other groups that may want to consider working together. Moreover, it would send a message that highly committed independent institutions can work together and achieve valuable results – results not possible working individually. It would provide encouragement for others to forge alliances that can improve the active teaching and learning experience on the campuses, strengthen the participating institutions and serve the broader society.