Miyares Tells University Higher Education Leaders that Communication and Transparency Were Keys to Helping UMUC Find a New Way to Fulfill its Public Mission

While speaking at an education conference in early April, University of Maryland University College (UMUC) President Javier Miyares advised colleagues that transparency is paramount as universities struggle to find and adopt new ways of generating the revenue they need to counter rising costs and declining enrollments. Keeping faculty, staff and oversight-board members updated about the nature and timing of major changes can engender more buy-in and support, and a smoother transition, he said.

Miyares was one of three university presidents on a panel that opened the “Innovation and Public-Private Partnership in Higher Education” conference hosted by George Mason University.  Joining Miyares was Marisa Kelly, president of Suffolk University in Boston, and David Van Zandt, president of New School in New York City. Doug Lederman, co-founder and editor in chief of Inside Higher Education, moderated the discussion.

UMUC had gone through a rough period of cost-cutting and layoffs due to enrollment challenges in 2013, as it also sought a new business model that would help fulfill the university’s public mission of serving adult students in an innovative way, Miyares told conference goers. But the path taken by other universities to source new revenue—expanding into online education—was not an option for UMUC because it has been a leader in the Internet-based delivery method since the mid-1990s and provides more than 85 percent of its classes online.

Instead, UMUC has developed new revenue sources by identifying select non-academic services within the university that could be strategically spun off into for-profit companies that generate funds to build an endowment and keep tuition low for students. The university established UMUC Ventures, a non-profit holding company that now owns two for-profit entities serving educational institutions around the country—HelioCampus, which offers data analytics services to its clients and AccelerEd, which focuses on developing next-generation technology for educational institutions.

“We see an institution with an academic core, and then there is everything else,” Miyares told the invitation-only gathering of university leaders and private-company CEOs.  “And the ‘everything else’— if we conduct our due diligence and it’s good for the university — can be spun off.”

Miyares said he learned throughout UMUC’s transformative progression that any time major change is being developed, the entire community and stakeholders must be included early in the process and kept informed along the way.

“It has to be ‘communication, communication, communication,’” he said. “Now I am going through a process where I meet with everyone at the university to bring the community along with us. These small-group meetings bring transparency and trust in what we are doing.”

As a public institution, UMUC also must work with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and keep state legislators informed as well, Miyares added.

In fact, he said, as UMUC worked through the creation of UMUC Ventures and spinning off non-academic functions, the Regents organized a subset of members they called the UMUC working group because these innovations were requiring so much attention.

“But that support made the transformation of UMUC possible,” Miyares said. He sees a key part of his job as working closely with the Regents to make sure they know what we are doing.

“Anything you do that is transformative carries risks. That’s why you need a more transparent approach,” Miyares said.

The mindset was, he said, to not agonize too much, but to just keep at it. “We used that philosophy to make the point that UMUC needed to be transformed.  It worked for us,” Miyares concluded.