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Business Officer Magazine

Embracing the Unknown

Visionary leaders look below the surface of today’s troubled times and suggest actions that equip higher education for a new climate.

Edited by Dorothy Wagener with introduction by John Walda

It has been rough sailing for the better part of this past fiscal year, and the truth is, nobody knows exactly what lies beneath the surface as financial markets remain volatile. What we can say for certain is this: Higher education institutions have withstood centuries of fluctuation. Designed to be resilient and to serve generation after generation of students, they have faced many a financial unknown.

Because the current downturn has deeper implications than almost anything in recent history, it's doubtful that higher education will emerge unscathed or unchanged. Quite frankly, change is inevitable—and while not always easy, must be seen as positive. Coping with difficult times can make our institutions stronger for the future.

Colleges and universities are long-lasting and stable, but these qualities are hardly synonymous with being stranded in the past, unable to adapt. After all, these institutions attract and employ creative minds, thought leaders, innovators, and visionaries. So while some institutions may have deeply entrenched practices and procedures, all are capable of recognizing the need for, and implementing, change.

Acknowledging the critical need to examine the multifaceted nature of the global economic crisis and its effect on our world from myriad angles—and explore below the tip of the iceberg—NACUBO has invited leaders in higher education and finance to write about these turbulent, changing times. The following essays present a range of perspectives—historical, endowment-focused, community college, student, and more—on the issues higher education is currently contending with, including some solutions for these and future challenges.

Although their backgrounds and angles differ, our essayists present common threads. Higher education is critical, not only for individual success but also for our nation to continue to prosper. We must focus on the needs of underrepresented populations. We must examine our business practices to ensure their continued effectiveness. And we need to take a long-term view, not only when considering endowments, but also in terms of sustainability and our service to communities.

Here, then, are eight voices that remind us of long-held values even as they guide us into unfamiliar territory.

JOHN WALDA is president and chief executive officer and DOROTHY WAGENER is editor of Business Officer at NACUBO.