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Dr. Betty J. Roberts: A Trailblazer in Transforming Higher Education

Updated on April 17, 2014

The Effect of Budget Cuts on Colleges

For many years, learning institutions have struggled with state budget cuts, making it difficult to serve students and maintain a 21st century learning environment. Dr. Betty J. Roberts, a higher education professional, spent her career transforming universities to better benefit its students, faculty and staff and overcome the financial hardships due to decreased state appropriations.

Civil rights legend and founder of the Medgar & Myrlie Evers Institute, Ms. Myrlie Evers, describes Dr. Betty J. Roberts as “an extremely gifted and committed leader who brings a wealth of incredible experience and stellar leadership to complement the strategic goals and progressive direction of this Institute.” From negotiating with government bodies to community outreach programs to inventive fundraising campaigns, Dr. Roberts stands out as a senior administrator to be acknowledged in history as one of the monumental forces behind creating funds and adjusting administrative finances to bring outstanding prosperity to a number of colleges suffering from budget cuts.

Dr. Betty J. Roberts

Dr. Betty J. Roberts smiles from across her desk as she carries out her duties as a senior administrator.
Dr. Betty J. Roberts smiles from across her desk as she carries out her duties as a senior administrator. | Source

Betty J. Roberts, PhD: Her Early Career

The University of Missouri (UCM) is the state’s sole doctoral-level and public research university and is a where Dr. Roberts’ not only began her career, but where she developed her drive to give back to college communities. Dr. Roberts’ career took a turn while she was an administrator at University of Missouri-Columbia in the student affairs department. In the late 70s, she was nominated as one of three individuals around the nation to join a prestigious program for women and minorities in non-traditional fields such as Information Technology, Purchasing, and Facilities Management.

The opportunity to orchestrate at the administrative level of a university led Dr. Roberts to discover the essential relationship between students, faculty, and administration and, thus became the foundation of her career. She honed her skills in technology, finance, student affairs, and academic affairs in order to greatly improve universities, propagating changes early on such as establishing a minority business program on campus and implementing an IBM Application Development initiative.

The Beginning of Transformation

In 1994, Pennsylvania State University experienced major inefficiencies in its business operations. Dr. Betty J. Roberts took over as Assistant Vice President of Business Services that year and revitalized a number of departments that were greatly underperforming. Her participation in its strategic plan helped set the institution on a successful track to continuous improvement by streamlining cost centers and reforming accounting practices, saving the university $500k annually.

Dr. Betty J. Roberts’ expertise in information technology greatly benefited the University of Houston while she was an Associate Vice President of Information Technology in 2000. In spearheading a Distance Learning initiative, she augmented enrollment and increased available courses, resulting in tuition revenue growth and providing students more opportunities to learn and succeed.

In 2006, Dr. Betty J. Roberts returned to Missouri to serve as the Vice President of Administration and Finance at UCM and implemented changes that greatly improved the campus. Before her arrival, UCM suffered from stalled processes, limited funding, and outdated and costly processes.

Her negotiations with students, staff and the Board of Governors effected an approval of a $21 million bond initiative that funded the Student Recreation and Wellness Center and the Health and Human Performance Department. Additionally, she strategically lobbied to reinstate a $13 million Lewis & Clark fund which led to the renovation of Morrow Garrison. A friend-raiser and fundraiser for the school, Dr. Roberts took every opportunity to secure money for UCM from the community, business leaders, and through streamlining ineffective processes with the utmost integrity.

Creating an environmentally friendly campus was also important to Dr Roberts’ mission. In addition to erecting the Office of Sustainability, Dr. Betty J. Roberts deployed an unparalleled 18-month, $36 million energy performance plan to dramatically decrease the University’s energy consumption and carbon footprint. The project covered over 26 campus buildings and led to $20 million in deferred maintenance, reducing energy usage by 31%. This sustainability deployment was one of Dr. Roberts’ most ingenious legacies, gaining attention both locally and nationally.

Dr. Betty J. Roberts' Sustainability Initiative at UCM

Dr. Betty J. Roberts’ Legacy to Alcorn State University (ASU)

Now with an even stronger vision and mission, Dr Betty J. Roberts continued to be a pioneer of positive change when she embarked on a new career as Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Operations at ASU in 2011. Focused on giving back to underprivileged learning institutions, Dr. Roberts declined a more profitable title in New York in order to resuscitate ASU by providing “large school” opportunities to a very small-scale college.

As both a land-grant and Historically Black College University (HBCU), ASU suffered from obsolete processes and dilapidated buildings. Dr. Roberts’ transformations finally brought this institution into the 21st century. From converting to a direct deposit system to replacing printing/copying equipment with efficient, money-saving and state-of-the art machines to establishing a professional police force and emergency response team to create a safer environment for all campus members, and codifying the institution’s business policies, Dr. Betty J. Roberts helped ASU realize amazing advancements in a short window of time.

Her legacies greatly focused on students, Dr. Betty J. Roberts led the construction to modernize and monetize the 26-year-old Follett Bookstore through a partnership with Barnes & Noble. Today, the Barnes and Noble Bookstore features cutting-edge computer technologies, a convenience market, college-branded apparel, discounted textbooks and trade books and financial incentives for scholarships.

Dr. Roberts is a dedicated proponent of green initiatives and carbon footprint reduction. She established a student-run Office of Sustainability at ASU so the campus could focus on recycling, bike share, an arboretum and forging support for the Parking Program, a program very similar to one to she had deployed at UCM.

A devoted visionary of ASU’s faculty and staff with a mission to enhance employee work ethic and performance, Dr. Roberts rewrote the college’s Performance Evaluation Form. This form resulted in clearer work expectations by allowing managers to precisely identify strengths and opportunities for more training. Furthermore, her action to reallocate $1 million in funds gave 3%-5% salary increases to staff which became the first merit increase they received in four years.

A tourniquet to Alcorn State University, Dr. Betty J. Roberts stopped this institution from bleeding resources due to costly, obsolete processes and mended aging structures with much-needed reconstructions. Students and faculty now have a more prosperous university that can properly serve its members with the funding to focus on what every college institution should: preparing young scholars for the future.

An Impactful Visionary


Moving Forward

Now a veteran in higher education administration, decorated with a litany of awards and active on a variety of prominent committees and boards, Dr. Roberts has incredible experience galvanizing those around her to move in the direction of positive and effective change. Her leadership successes greatly match the successes of every university she has led, always with integrity, ethics and inclusion. Still full of energy with plans to continue her legacy, Dr. Betty J. Roberts chose to resign from Alcorn State University in late 2013, for she is ambitious about implementing enhancements at more college institutions that are in critical need of her leadership.


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