Press Releases | Costs

New Trustee Guide Explores Innovative Practices for Reducing Costs and Maintaining Academic Quality

Leading independent nonprofit recognizes “Blueprints for Reform” in new volume focused on higher education efficiency
May 4, 2017 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) today unveiled its second guide on university best practices for trustees, identifying innovative approaches college and university trustees can adopt to contain costs and improve institutional performance. The guide, Bold Leadership, Real Reform 2.0: Improving Efficiency, Cutting Costs, and Expanding College Opportunity, presents tried-and-true methods for improving higher education.

The new volume follows up on initiatives—some launched at the height of the financial crisis—outlined in ACTA’s earlier trustee guide, Bold Leadership, Real Reform: Best Practices in University Governance. In revisiting schools featured in the previous guide, ACTA’s review enables trustees to follow the progress different university initiatives have made in increasing student success. The guide urges higher education trustees to look at innovative models, such as shared course initiatives and online consortia, curricular consolidation, and the use of institutional analytics to identify bottlenecks and improve operations.

Among the schools featured as “Blueprints for Reform” are Arizona State University, Purdue University, the University System of Maryland, the State University System of Florida, and the University of Colorado. Each provide examples of cost-saving techniques and administrative innovations that have improved student outcomes and efficiency without compromising academic quality and student options.

Consortia such as the Associated Colleges of the South; the Shared Course Initiative created by Columbia, Cornell, and Yale; and the Sunoikisis Project at Harvard University’s Center for Hellenic Studies allow colleges to continue offering important but low-enrollment courses. Colleges can cost-effectively offer a wide range of foreign language and classics courses by co-developing courses and leveraging campus technologies.

The guide also profiles successful programs designed to foster collaboration between campuses, including the University Innovation Alliance (UIA). The UIA’s 11 member universities forego competition and instead embrace a spirit of data-sharing and cooperation with a shared goal of increasing student success, especially for first-generation and low-income students. Since coming together in 2014, UIA-member schools are on track to increase the number of students who will graduate by 94,000.

“This guide is a playbook for trustees looking to leapfrog the conventional wisdom about higher education finance,” said Armand Alacbay, ACTA’s vice president of trustee and legislative affairs. “Higher education’s traditional business model is increasingly unsustainable, so the need for engaged trusteeship is at an all-time high. Boards can play a significant role in improving institutional strategy and efficiency without compromising academic quality or raising tuition.”

“Higher education faces twin challenges: a crisis of affordability—a question of price and value—and a crisis of public confidence in the ability of universities to deliver on their promise. Here, we take the opportunity to chronicle some of the true heroes of higher education reform, who are using technology, innovation, and inter-campus partnerships to enhance student outcomes while holding the line on costs. We believe this will be a valuable resource for trustees, who are ready to embrace change and strengthen their institutions.”


Bridget Burns, executive director of the University innovation Alliance

“The University Innovation Alliance, as highlighted in ACTA’s report, is showing that expanding access and improving outcomes for first-generation, low-income students and students of color can be done using existing resources in a cost-efficient way. Through collaboration, we’ve been uncovering powerful, low-cost ways we can remove barriers to student success. When institutional leaders work together, students win.”

Michael Berghoff, Chair of Purdue University’s Board of Trustees

“Purdue is proud to be included among universities that are at the forefront of innovation. As a land-grant university, we firmly believe we owe students and their families our best efforts to stem the rising costs of higher education while enhancing accessibility and the quality of the education we provide – or as we say ‘higher education at the highest proven value’. Our commitment to those values has been driven by the leadership of President Mitch Daniels, but would not have been possible without the support of our board and the dedication of our faculty and staff.”


ACTA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More