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Business Officer Magazine
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Back Story

Profiles of individuals in roles that support the work of the chief business officer—and who represent the majority of the Business Officer reading audience

By Margo Vanover Porter

Alan Finn and family
Alan Finn

Associate Vice President
for Budget and Finance 
Portland State University
Portland, Oregon 
8 years in higher education

Follow the Leader

Although he loves his new job on the West Coast, Alan Finn misses the family he left behind. "My support system is my wife Kim and my son Sean, who are still in New York," says the new associate vice president for budget and finance at Portland State University (PSU), Portland, Oregon. "They won't be joining me until after the school year is over."

Facing a challenging real estate market, the Finns wrestled with their bicoastal living decision. "Our house needed work before we could put it on the market," he explains. "We had two choices: We could all move and try to sell the house from the other side of the country, or try this. It's been a challenge. We Skype a lot, and we talk on the phone every single day."

Why did you move to Portland?

At my previous job with the State University of New York, our chief operating officer was Monica Rima, with whom I had a great working relationship. When she left to become vice president for finance and administration at Portland State University, we talked about the possibility. I've worked for two people for whom I would walk through a wall: Monica is one of them.

What makes her leadership effective?

She's not afraid to make hard decisions. She makes it clear what she wants, and she gives you the freedom to do what you need to do. She does not micromanage. Also, PSU is exactly the type of institution I believe makes a difference in peoples' lives. I wanted to be a part of that.

What attracted you to higher education in the first place?

It's something I believe in. I was very fortunate because my parents could pay for my college education. As I got older, I realized how lucky I was and what a difference a college education makes. I've always wanted to work at an institution where I felt I could contribute to others who weren't as lucky. At PSU, we serve a very diverse population with a lot of unmet needs.

What's the big challenge for higher education right now?

The cost of tuition. It's forcing us all to be strategic about our decisions. We can't just put our burden on the students.

What financial planning mistakes do institutions make?

Assuming that enrollment growth will continue. In various places throughout the country, that's not the case anymore. You can really cover up a lot of issues if your enrollment continues to grow exponentially, but when things start to flatten out, you have to pay attention.

What issues have you tackled in your new job?

We're trying to be more transparent and inclusive. We want to make sure that the students have a say in our policies. For example, we have created a student budget advisory group.

Aren't students just interested in lower tuition?

Their first choice certainly isn't to raise tuition, but I think our students are savvy enough to understand there's only so much money to go around. We have really involved students here. They get it. They just want to make sure we're being good stewards of their resources.

Have you developed any new procedures for budgeting?

Yes. PSU budgeted one-time money and recurring money the same way. I helped separate those two pieces. We now have a recurring budget, as well as one-time funds. 

How does PSU allocate campus resources?

Traditionally, it's been an incremental model-what you got last year, plus or minus.  We're in the process of moving toward performance-based budgeting. We haven't designed the allocation model yet, but we are in the process of rolling out a revenue and cost attribution tool.

What do you do for personal renewal?

I spend time outside. One of the things that attracted me to Portland is its outdoor focus. Within a couple of minutes, I can be on a trail on my bike riding along the river.  

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Virginia, covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.