Taking steps to increase funds

The Great Game of Education

The Great Game of Education

Reduced state funding and the inability to raise tuition due to SB389 threaten the financial stability of Missouri Southern. The University has been seeking ways to become more self-sustaining and less reliant on state funds that have been inconsistent and have not met its budgetary needs.

University President Alan Marble hopes the Great Game of Education will help provide a solution.

In December 2014, Marble announced the Great Game of Education, a partnership with the Great Game of Business. The Great Game of Business is a management system based on the book of the same name by Jack Stack. Southern’s version will use Stack’s core ideas of open-book management as a way to create a culture of openness, employee involvement and financial awareness on campus.

“People who have information financial or otherwise about their particular units and about the overall operation of the organization tend to make better decisions. That’s really the fundamental core,” said Marble.

In the months since the announcement, Jeff Gibson, director of budgeting and operations, and Dr. Scott Cragin, professor of business administration and management marketing, have begun to work together to adapt the Great Game of Business model into one that fits a not-for-profit university culture.

“It’s exciting to be part of an initiative that will increase everyone’s understanding of University operations and provide an opportunity to make a difference,” said Gibson, “I’m convinced the result will be a stronger and more vibrant University both financially and otherwise.”

A presentation demonstrating the current level of achievement has been made available to all faculty and staff through the University’s intranet system. This presentation outlines and explains the core focus of the Great Game of Education and how with everyone’s participation it will successfully bring the University back to a place of sustainability and profitability.

“There are certain times in a person’s life when you have the opportunity to be a pioneer, to be at the forefront of something new, different, maybe a bit challenging, and I just wanted to know more about it,” said Maryann Mitts, assistant professor of kinesiology.

The presentation, titled “The Great Game of Education – Rapid Financial Results & Lasting Cultural Change,” lays out 10 steps and indicates the current level of University implementation is level three, “Open the books and teach the numbers.” The most important number is called the critical number, which, according to the presentation, can be impacted in a positive way by both increasing revenue and decreasing expenses.

“The critical number is operating cash … it runs about $8 million of reserves that we have, but those reserves are going down because we are deficit spending, which is a non-sustainable path, and we’ve got to find a way to stop that, and that is what the Great Game [of Education] is going to help us do,” said Cragin. “Each individual area determines how their particular area affects the critical number, what numbers do they have under their control that they can begin to work on to improve the critical number.”

Financial training is currently under development for all employees.

“Before the end of the semester we want to bring in a ‘train the trainer’ person from the Great Game [of Business] in Springfield,” said Cragin. “They’ve been very helpful … they have a vested interest in seeing us succeed. We’re the first ones to try this. It’s a huge marketing opportunity for them if it works.”

The presentation further explains that the Great Game is about educating, empowering and engaging. One element of engagement that is already being successfully implemented around campus is MiniGames. MiniGames are short-term improvement efforts designed to either affect a change, correct a weakness, or pursue an opportunity.

“Nothing’s dictated … it’s each area saying, ‘Hey, we can do this. It’s going to help the critical number,’ and there are rewards involved,” said Cragin. “Each area is encouraged, but not demanded … our hope is that they’ll see other areas doing it and other areas getting rewards and they’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s work on this, let’s improve that.’”

MiniGames with a focus on increasing retention have already been successfully implemented by the kinesiology and foreign language departments. Increased retention has an indirect effect on tuition revenue, according to the presentation.

“The MiniGames are a form of shared governance, and what we realized is that through the MiniGame we were able to take a plan, and our plan was retention of our students,” said Mitts. “So our MiniGame was to meet with, for a two to three minute pause in our day, all of our kinesiology students, about two weeks before midterms [to] have a check-in. Of the 221 students that we have in our department, we met with 194 as a department. Our goal was to meet with 80 percent; we actually did 88 percent. So we saw immediate results.”

The retention MiniGame in the foreign language department was a five-week game that ends today, but weekly totals have been strong and the goals for the game have also been met.

The five divisions under Scott Snell, director of distance learning, have also set goals and have successfully completed MiniGames that Snell said have taught them great lessons that will help them be even more successful the next time they play.

“I think it is a great thing, and it has the potential to solve just about every challenge we face,” said Snell.

The Great Game is slowly integrating each school and department on campus. While the administration believes this model will be the saving grace of the University, not all staff and faculty are as quick to buy into the program.

“In my observation there are clearly more staff members on board and excited about the Great Game,” said Mitts. “The faculty seem to be a little slow coming to the table. I know that everyone does not want one more thing to do. Everyone is busy. There’s no one on this campus sitting around doing nothing and that alone may be one of the biggest drawbacks for the faculty to be involved. And what I would say to that is the time we spent in this particular MiniGame was minimal and it was a part of our everyday life in this department … the minimal extra time that we put into this, the benefits will far outreach what we need.”