OUR THOUGHTS ON:

Challenging the Status Quo to Remain Sustainable

Higher Education

By Patrick Kerns

NACUBO’s Spring 2017 Higher Education Accounting Forum focused on more than simply the debits and credits. There was discussion on how to help business offices be the change agents that they need to be to confront many of the challenges that the sector continues to face.

The theme of the business officer being a leader and a change agent has been gathering momentum for quite some time. Most business officers understand that they are no longer just the scorekeepers of numbers, but now must be able to interpret them and help to use them to inform key decisions and strategies both at the board and administration level. Some key items to consider as you evaluate your institution’s sustainability:

  1. How does your institution help to inform students about the value of the degree and the cost to obtain that degree? This extends beyond the tuition and fees being charged. How does the institution inform the student about the cost of the debt and making sure that they are utilizing debt in an appropriate manner? Highlighted in one session was the initiatives that Indiana University has undertaken to help its prospective and current students understand the true costs of their education.

  2. Don’t let your institution fall into nostalgia or complacency, because by the time you confront change it could be too late. Simply wishing or hoping for the “good old days” won’t be good enough. What progressive or new ideas is your institution embracing to ensure the long-term viability of the institution? What new risk or endeavor has your institution undertaken?

  3. Make sure your institution is focused on one thing – the ultimate success of your students. While each institution has a unique mission, at its core, higher education has the responsibility of making sure that you educate students in a fashion to attain a career. Don’t be caught up in the minutia of what your specific mission says, but rather, ensure that your institution has a total student focus on student success, because this is the most important priority to the long-term viability and success of the institution.

  4. Make sure you have someone asking the tough questions both at the institution’s administration level and at the board level. Institutions need to make sure that there is a healthy dialogue to challenge the traditional thinking or think outside the box, and those different viewpoints should be welcomed to spark dialogue.

  5. Do you understand who all of your stakeholders are, and are they well informed on your strategic initiatives? The stakeholders are more than just the board, and can include rating agencies, faculty and staff, key donors, students, parents, investors in your debt, the U.S. government and other stakeholders that will be unique to each institution.Ensuring that they understand your strategic priorities will assist in obtaining buy-in and the success of the plan.

  6. What is your digital strategy? The slow march to transition to more of a digital delivery is inevitable. How does your institution plan to prepare for this? What is the level of your on-line offering? Is your current platform robust enough to support a change?

  7. How does your budget allocate the scarce resources? Budgets can be challenging, since disrupting the traditional budget allocation can be viewed as picking favorites or choosing winners and losers. However, having an open dialogue on budget priorities is necessary in order to ask the tough questions and to ensure the continued success of the institution.

This is not designed to be a comprehensive list of considerations that will ensure the long-term sustainability of your institution; however, focusing on these key matters first will ensure that your institution can begin to evaluate areas that might threaten your sustainability, and that you as the business officer can become a change agent that is needed.

For more information, contact Schneider Downs or visit the Our Thoughts On... blog.

Material discussed is meant for informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, this information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.

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