We are fortunate in Virginia to have autonomous state universities governed by their own separate boards. Other states govern their universities as a system under one shared board and chief executive. While both structures have their advantages, I’ve always preferred the superior agility, entrepreneurship and responsiveness of Virginia’s decentralized organization.
Criticisms of our system tend to highlight possible inefficiencies related to a supposed lack of collaboration among our universities. In my experience, however, our decentralized system has shown that collaboration can and does take place. Two recent examples demonstrate this, one to help working adults complete their degrees, and the other to share research resources in the biosciences.
Old Dominion University President John R. Broderick and I recently wrote in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper about our partnership in the Online Virginia Network. We estimate about 1.1 million adult learners in Virginia earned some college credits but did not graduate. Online degrees are particularly well-suited to help these individuals obtain their degrees. Through the Online Virginia Network, Mason and ODU are bringing together 37 programs in fields from cybersecurity to business to computer science to better serve the needs of adult learners in high-demand fields. These graduates would have greater job opportunities and contribute to our state’s economic vibrancy.
The second recent example of collaboration is an agreement Mason signed with six other Virginia research universities to pursue and advance discoveries in the life sciences. This agreement will enable Virginia universities to share facilities and vie for additional grants from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health. It also will attract businesses to the state to develop new technologies.
Mason’s partners in the life sciences research agreement are the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth, Virginia Tech, Eastern Virginia Medical School, William & Mary and ODU. State-funded biosciences nonprofit Virginia Catalyst also will play a role in the collaboration.
The Online Virginia Network partnership and the life sciences research and development agreement show what is possible when Virginia state universities share knowledge and assets. One of the greatest innovations we can achieve as state institutions is to find new ways to turn our individual capabilities into collective might.