Lehigh Valley Colleges Collaborate Through Crisis
March 30, 2020, @ 8:00 AM
Lehigh Valley higher education collaboration began with academic initiatives that allowed members to maximize resources while mutually benefiting faculty, staff, and students. Programs like these require an abundance of trust, cooperation, communication, and flexibility. These characteristics remain true to all members of the LVAIC higher education consortium today.
The Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC) was founded in 1969 by the presidents of its six members. That original group of leaders did something unprecedented in many industries and something rare in higher education at the time: collaborate. In recent times, higher education is facing major shifts as an industry, further exacerbated by a worldwide pandemic. How will independent higher education survive? The answer remains the same as it did over 50 years ago: collaboration.
LVAIC collaboration began with academic collaboration. As time progressed and the higher education industry changed, collaborative initiatives began to adapt to include a more administrative focus. This shift allowed for the purchasing partners program to begin. Collaboration even extended to recruitment and admissions with the Lehigh Valley counselors tour. After nearly two decades of partnering, the consortium began its micro grant initiative. Entering the new millennium, faculty from diverse fields of study gathered to begin the Lehigh Valley research consortium. This is just a preview of the many collaborative programs offered by LVAIC. Additional details of the entire timeline of LVAIC programs is available on the LVAIC website.
When preparing for its fiftieth anniversary, the presidents charged the consortium to explore the changing landscape of higher education and begin informing faculty and staff of the different aspects of this shift. In 2019, the consortium hosted a year-long thought leadership series: Facing Higher Education’s Future. The goals of this series included understanding key internal and external challenges facing higher education and advocating and engaging member campuses. Topics included tomorrow’s student, changing demographics, accessibility and affordability, higher education financial models, and more. Full details regarding the goals, topics, and materials from this series are is available on the series website. The collaboration continued from there.
LVAIC’s current Leaders and members view each other as resources. One of the organization’s longest-standing systems is its communities of practice. Over seventy groups of faculty and staff gather formally or informally for professional development, best practice sharing, advancement of initiatives, and development of programs. Through their purpose-driven cooperation, these communities of practice enable educational, operational, and fiscal advantages that are oftentimes exclusive to larger-scaled institutions.
Communities of practice continue to serve as crucial resources during times of crisis, particularly as higher education faces the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Presidents and Provosts from across the consortium began sharing in late February regarding campus communication, policies, and plans. This was quickly followed by Registrars, Educational Technologists, Chief Information Officers, Vice Presidents and Directors of Communication, and more. From there, Nursing faculty gathered to discuss approaching clinical rotations and Education faculty met to explore field experiences for students. Arts and Media faculty discussed how to create virtual studio experiences and Deans of Science brainstormed creating remote laboratory experiments.
In this time of crisis, the LVAIC community is looking within itself to find relief. Prior to making any major announcements or issuing any new policies, each campus leaders connected with each other and received feedback, reached agreement, and offered advice. LVAIC’s Executive Director, Diane Dimitroff, explains, “This is a pressing time for higher education, and our leaders are showing a great example of how collaboration can overcome these challenges. Our campuses have created a unified front around how they are approaching each bend in the curve.”
LVAIC’s Program Director, Charlene Bergstresser, added, “This is not the end of independent education. This is the beginning of a new model of collaboration. We will weather this storm, and our campuses will only come out stronger and more ready to work together hereafter.” While this crisis continues to create bumps in the road, members of LVAIC continue to adjust and remain in communication. From a website resource repository to shared Slack channels to regular video conference meetings, LVAIC’s faculty and staff collaborate and problem solve together each day.
The lead of the purchasing partners program, LVAIC Strategic Partnership Director, Katy Thomas, offered, “This is an essential time for our members to think differently about resource maximization. We can really rethink how and what we purchase together, especially as we see how technology can really make us more efficient in this pressing time.”
As we look to the next fifty years of private higher education in the Lehigh Valley, collaboration will continue to be the most valuable tool at hand, and this is how members of the LVAIC consortium will weather the storm.Managing Stress and Anxiety with Mindfulness During COVID-19 » « Higher Education Roundup: Working Remotely for Faculty and Staff