Becher’s main goal: raising revenue

Dr. Eric Becher

Kayla Friedrich

Dr. Eric Becher

During his campus visit, Dr. Eric Becher stressed fundraising, enrollment recruitment, retention, and strategies for institutional advancement.

Coming from a music background with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in music education, Becher, naturally, related institutional leadership to conducting an orchestra. He stated that in both situations, the leader has to react to what is heard either in a given rehearsal as a conductor, or going into in different situations as a leader, taking into account that what is heard may not be what was initially expected.

“Now, the other part of that analogy,” Becher said in a phone interview, “is as a conductor, I always wanted to encourage members of the ensemble to make decisions. I wanted them to try things and see if they could succeed or fail without fear. Each time they failed, they would learn something that would help them succeed the next time. This metaphor transfers over to leadership in the sense that I want people to feel empowered to do their jobs well. I want them to feel empowered to do their homework, give their best shot, and have them be allowed to fail, and learn from that failure to do something right.”

Working in an administrative position, most recently as vice president for advancement at The University of Pikeville, and prior to that position, as vice president of institutional advancement at the College of St. Elizabeth and at Albion College, Becher applied this leadership style in leading the strategic planning and implementation process. Becher says he is excited about working with Johnson State College in achieving success through the implementation of its next strategic plan as well.

According to Becher, his major priority for the first two years of his presidency, if appointed, would be to focus on revenue, then from that, determine what to support first that would make sense strategically down the road. A major part of the revenue equation is fundraising.

“At some point you need to take a stand and begin working on the revenue side of the equation,” said Becher. “So, a lot of conversations in the last few days have been about how I would change that revenue equation…over the years, particularly as a music faculty member, we didn’t have large budgets, so I had to fundraise, and find strategies to increase budgets, and expand programs, working with alums and other people to accomplish that.”

According to Becher’s cover letter and curricula vitae (CV), he has an extensive background in fundraising as a faculty member and as an advancement professional at multiple institutions. He has assisted in all phases of a $470 million capital campaign as vice president at the University of Connecticutt Foundation and in increasing the number of donors by 78 percent over the previous year as Vice president of advancement at the University of Pikeville, among other endeavors.

Becher’s theme of revenue and fundraising was echoed in his meeting with about 12 JSC students on Jan. 27, as well as in hiscommunity colloquium presentation with students, staff and faculty on Jan. 28.

Although fundraising is a major part of Becher’s revenue equation, he said the other side that the college has to look at is retention and enrollment.

“The students are our consumer,” said Becher, “and without the students and their buy-in to a Johnson State College degree and alums seeking the value of a Johnson State degree continuing to rise, the value of this institution deteriorates very quickly…Admissions was very excited to talk to me yesterday about how, at my last employer, we were able to go from 1000 students to 2500 students, and the problem with the answer is that there wasn’t a single silver bullet, it was a combination of things.”

Becher said the main problem is connecting to prospective students. Right now, Johnson State College’s admissions staff spends a lot of time with data management, and not enough time dealing with students. Becher’s solution would be to either increase the number of staff in that department, or make the system more efficient, automating the process of connecting with students at a younger age such as middle school. He said the college needs to reach out virtually in the media that younger generations are using like Facebook, phone calls, and email, sending out information at specific intervals during their career as students.
Automating this process could increase the pool of prospective students, increasing the number of applications. Then the admissions staff would have to increase the number of accepted students, thus increasing enrollment and the number of committed students.

“The second area is retention,” said Becher. “Two years ago I wrote a title III grant, and when I was assigned to do this, I was told that it had to be about advising…the title III was designed to help discern what the challenges were that students were facing, and provide counselors that would help in those areas, like dyslexia, different learning disabilities, and overcoming other issues that they had experienced previously in life, because the reality of it is that, as faculty members, we have no idea what pressures students are facing.”

Providing counseling services, Becher said, could bridge the gap between students and faculty and have a dramatic impact on retention. The next part of the grant would be to bring in professional assistance to help faculty connect with and know how to help their students, how to hold onto them and how to help them succeed.

Initially, Becher said, he would do a lot of listening. “For the first 100 days, I would want to spend time with every academic discipline and every staff area and every athletic area, to determine what their dreams are for the future, and what their challenges are, because that’s the only way I’m going to know how to champion these things out in the community,” he said. “Then, at some point I’ll get out of the way and let the good work of the faculty and staff unroll, and move forward on behalf of the students.”