At the recent NACUBO conference, one of the hot topics was the shortage of capital and endowment funds and the limited potential to increase tuition fees. Nevertheless a number of successful universities are guided by a vision of sustainability. Their success was captured by the key note speaker Jim Collins, who urged universities to “reject the idea-well intentioned, but dead wrong-that the primary path to greatness in the social sector is to become “more like a business”. He argued that most businesses fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are “great”. Greatness requires among other attributes discipline and focus. That type of discipline and focus can often come from sustainability plans which not only set up a roadmap for achieving the vision but also warn of the pitfalls along the way such as financial, reputational risks.
Fortunately universities with successful sustainability plans, such as Arizona State, University of Washington, Middlebury, to mention a few, realize the importance having a positive sustainability feedback loop that includes a measure of financial success. It is through this process that they have managed to harness sufficient resources for continual improvement.