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Business Officer Magazine

Timely Teachings

By Denny Terrell

The ACE-NACUBO workshop was three short weeks after I'd joined Shippensburg University. Having come from employment with the federal government, I was well versed in financial management in the public sector, but knew little about the inner workings of higher education.

This conference offered me not only the opportunity to develop a strong partnership with our provost, it also grounded me in university operations. Meeting with other CFOs provided key insights as to how the CAO-CFO relationship can produce strong collaboration that yields benefits to the school, or how it can become adversarial, to the detriment of all. Hearing the perspectives of college and university presidents on their expectations for how CAOs and CFOs should work together was also very useful, and established a framework for the challenge we faced only two months later.

Midway through the fall term, our governor asked all segments of the state government to give up a significant share of our budgets to meet shortfalls in revenues. As we had already completed two of our summer terms and were well into the fall, with spring classes announced, more than half of the annual budget expenditures were already set in stone. To preserve a balanced budget, we needed to develop a clear consensus as to how we would reduce expenses.

Our workshop experience had impressed on the provost and me how critical the CAO-CFO relationship was to dealing with major crises. We were in accord on the primacy of protecting the student learning outcomes, while recognizing that there wasn't enough flexibility in other parts of the budget to completely shield the academic side of the house. We searched for strategies that would enable us to keep student research and educational experiences intact, as well as retain faculty positions and research sabbaticals. Although we ultimately had to take some supply and equipment money from the provost's area, we preserved all programs and believe our students and most of the faculty were unaware of the cuts we imposed.

Our learning experience provided us with sound footing to approach this challenge as an opportunity to rethink our funding strategy and reposition our university to become more innovative than we likely would have been had full funding continued.

While we are preparing for reaccreditation, we are further examining how our partnership can leverage the self-study, and, ultimately, the team visit to strengthen our institution. The process is leading us to seek better outcome measures to evaluate all university programs and services, and subsequently invest in those areas that will yield benefits into the future. We have already begun to reassess our resource distribution processes to focus on the strategic goals of our university, ensuring that we continue to provide our students an outstanding education at a reasonable cost.

DENNY TERRELL is vice president for administration and finance, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg.