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Business Officer Magazine

Adaptation Strategies

By Carole Schweitzer

A new series of feature articles, launching in this issue, addresses the tectonic shifts in the landscape of higher education. While some basic operating principles will settle into familiar territory, many more will require strategic navigation systems to help lead the way.

"As all of us in higher education continue to face ongoing challenges in enrollments, state support levels, and personnel costs, we could benefit from functioning in crisis mode more often," suggests Guilbert Brown, vice president, finance and administration, Edinboro University, Edinboro, Pa. In the article that follows, "The Comeback Campus," Brown notes that, "When we're faced with a crisis, it's natural to put differences aside and put the community first. One of our leadership challenges in higher education is to bring that ethos to our organizations even when we are not in a state of imminent crisis."

Brown goes on to explain in the article that Edinboro, like many public universities, depends on tuition and fees for its annual operating revenues, resulting in a financial position that is closely linked to enrollment. When enrollment dipped—and at the same time, leadership turnover was rampant and state support decreased dramatically—the university's financial position became so precarious that its accrediting agency issued a warning. Edinboro leadership took this as a wake-up call and set its goal to find not one-time resources, but to create a strategic approach to long-term financial sustainability.

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Edinboro's story is not unfamiliar. As part of NACUBO's Economic Models Project (, search "Economic Models Project"), comments from dozens of focus groups, representing the association's four constituent groups—as well as leaders from other higher education associations, think tanks, and state budget offices—identified significant stumbling blocks inhibiting the path to a sustainable business model. Top on the list were resource allocation, the labor intensity of the organization, insufficient capital, and the effect of the external environment.

Against this churning backdrop, many institutions are thinking strategically about ways to adapt for the long-term. Feature stories in the Adaptation Strategies series will highlight that work, its outcomes, and ways to continue to be nimble and flexible. As Brown concludes, "We've set in place the infrastructure to ensure [our] success moving forward,
together as a community."

CAROLE SCHWEITZER is editor in chief of Business Officer.

The Comeback Campus