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Business Briefs

Short news articles based on research surveys and peers’ business experiences that can benefit institutions

PLANNING AND BUDGETING
NACUBO Annual Meeting Postscript

Economic Effects on College Admissions

35%

The share of college and university admissions officers who reported cuts in their institutions' admissions office budget during the 2008-09 academic year.

2

The average number of undergraduate admissions office staff positions that were eliminated at higher education institutions in 2008-09 because of budget cuts and other financial constraints.

70%

The share of high school admissions counselors who reported an increase in the number of graduating seniors at their schools who were forgoing their "dream" college or university and attending a lower-priced institution.

Source: National Association for College Admission Counseling, Effects of the Economy on the Admissions Process, 2008-09, June 2009.

If you attended the NACUBO 2009 Annual Meeting in Boston or read the September issue's “Out of the Park in Boston,” you're well aware of the rich content of this year's event. Here we capture a few more insights from concurrent sessions. And don't miss the online extras at Business Officer Plus—including NACUBO President John Walda's interview with Cal Ripken Jr., with related video clips.

Riding Out the Recession

“It's not like any other time,” acknowledged Kimberly Cline, president of Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, New York, in the panel discussion “Through Turbulent Times: How Institutions Are Managing Through the Recession.” Moderated by Frank Kurre, national managing partner, Grant Thornton, the panel of institution presidents and business officers offered up suggestions for dealing with the downturn. Rethinking strategic plans and applying practical tactics in day-to-day operations were just the start of their suggestions for coping.

Robert Scott, president, Adelphi University, Garden City, New York, advised of the importance of careful communication—especially listening to institutional history and paying attention to relevant data. While it's obviously necessary to manage cash carefully, he emphasized, it's also necessary to continue planning strategically and building the future through endowments. “Don't cut operationally into what will hurt you in the long run,” he added.

Mark Oster, partner-in-charge at Grant Thornton, focused on doing more with less, “with emphasis on the 'doing,'” he clarified. “There's increased importance placed on effective oversight and new attention to using dashboards.” Oster also said many institutions are using this time as an opportunity for an information technology effectiveness review, and are looking at risk management to identify ways to avoid losses.

Adelphi's Scott responded that today may also be viewed as a time to do less, but to do it better. He encouraged establishing basic metrics to help represent progress, and supported the idea of operations audits in all areas, including alumni relations and student life. Panel members also agreed that making deans and departments part of the hard decision making is important.

Even though times are tough, “there's an opportunity for business officers,” Cline pointed out, “because they are getting attention they may not have received in normal times.” Cline went on to suggest actions that institutions could take in five major areas. Among them:

Renew focus. Concentrate on mission and core activities, ensuring that programs are relevant and meeting the needs of students; understand the competition and benchmark their successes.

Concentrate on cost reduction. Secure accurate data and analysis; identify areas that are underutilized; consolidate services; and redeploy underused resources.

Identify revenue generators. Understand what you do best; look for situational opportunities; and expand recruitment.

Secure future stability. Develop five-year budgets, gradually rolling in new revenues and decreasing dependence on uncertain revenues; and build other resources.

Employ strong leadership. Educate the president and board of trustees on key issues; generate buy-in from executive leadership; manage expectations; confront issues and provide solutions; communicate objectives and work with leadership to meet them; and celebrate success.

Making Debt Sustainable

“Don't waste a crisis,” urged Philip Aldridge, vice chancellor for finance and business development for the University of Texas System Administration, Austin. In his presentation, “The Role of Debt Financing in a Capital Constrained World,” Aldridge explained, “Now is the time for permanent changes to your debt and treasury policies and for strategies that make your debt program sustainable over the long term.”

He focused on seven strategies to strengthen a debt program:

  • Establish a debt policy that recognizes debt as a scarce resource that needs to be rationed. Set an overall credit rating goal; establish minimum thresholds for accessing debt and enforce them; limit variable rate exposure; and limit funding risk.
  • Actively manage your risks by keeping debt, swaps, and investment portfolios as simple as possible.
  • Prioritize liquidity and make sure that investment managers are aware of your definition of liquidity.
  • Make your financial adviser a partner in identifying risks in the portfolio and in creating and maintaining a risk dashboard for your debt portfolio that is consistent with your debt policy.
  • Understand your investment portfolio by having a “heart to heart” with your investment manager. Ensure that you understand the nature of lockups, side pockets, and payments-in-kind provisions that can make “liquid” assets illiquid.
  • Communicate more effectively about your debt program, especially in your key relationships with the governing board, customers, rating agencies, and banks.
  • Measure your debt program's value added. Calculate net savings from debt refunding, escrow restructurings, contract renegotiations, net arbitrage earnings, and other measures. List your annual accomplishments and emphasize risk reduction activities.

Improve As You Go

Chief business officers interested in honing work processes can take cues from Texas A&M University, College Station. In their session, “A Division of Finance Embarks on a Continuous Improvement Journey,” university leaders detailed how they have engaged nearly half of their finance division's 300 employees in process improvement training. Along the way, they've solicited input from staff through pilot project teams, surveys, and 42 separate department meetings. They've also developed an employee Web site and blog specifically for exchanging ideas and information, including a glossary of key terms so that all employees are on the same page regarding the topic of continuous improvement.

Among key outcomes to date: a continuous improvement plan, updated quarterly, that details specific goals and timelines; and a succinct five-page organizational profile providing an overview of the division's services, customers, and key challenges. Now that the division has engaged in a self-assessment and developed a divisionwide strategic plan, the next step will be creating departmental business plans that identify mission-critical processes and objectives.

“Part of our goal in engaging multiple employees in work teams has been to help groups learn to apply process improvement approaches outside of specific projects they're working on,” explained Grant Trexler, Texas A&M's director of student and business affairs finance.

NACUBO CONTACT Connie Adamson, director, education and workshops, 202.861.2584; Donna Klinger, director, publications, 202.861.2530; and Karla Hignite, contributing editor for Business Officer

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SPOTLIGHT: RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES
Smart Residence Reflects Long-Range Commitment

Few of us think to check the price of electricity before we run the dishwasher, nor do we ponder the source of the power we've relied on throughout our lives. But, for residents here in Boulder, Colorado, such actions may soon be common. In fact, this new way of running a household is already a reality for University of Colorado at Boulder (CU-Boulder) Chancellor Philip DiStefano and his wife Yvonne, as they learn to make the most of their environmentally “smart” residence.

Part of a Larger Plan

Located on the university's campus, the chancellor's home has recently been equipped with the technology necessary to interface with the local utility—Xcel Energy—and its SmartGridCity project. Xcel and its project partners are initiating the $100 million venture to test new distribution and infrastructure technologies that will significantly upgrade the nation's power grid. Recent installation of hardware and software that are the core of the new system have made Boulder the first fully functioning smart-grid-enabled city. This signals a major move away from reliance on carbon-based fuels and focuses attention and investment on conservation, renewable energy, and moderation of power use to avoid demand spikes.

The transformation is a good fit with CU-Boulder, where students and members of the campus community have led the way in initiating sustainable practices since the mid-1970s. Our institution established the nation's first university recycling program, and since that time, we've championed resource conservation and funded new environmental initiatives. A great example of the progress of these ongoing efforts was our first zero-waste Big 12 football game, in 2008. The athletics department and our students worked together to initiate the use of completely compostable cups, utensils, and paper products. They also provided clear labeling and pictures on trash receptacles to guide users in proper disposal of packaging and compostable food waste.

The chancellor's residence is another way to underscore the university's commitment to the challenges of pursuing carbon neutrality. It's also compatible with Governor Bill Ritter's Greening of State Government plan designed to reduce the environmental impact of state government.

A Model Home for Green IT

The smart residence will serve as a prototype for the future and is equipped with a number of technology tools to save energy and provide data and analytics that empower individuals to make wise energy choices and adjustments. A few of the elements that have been installed through the SmartGridCity project include the following:

  • A 6 kV rooftop solar array that is designed to satisfy roughly 25 percent of the home's electrical demand.
  • A Web-based graphical interface that serves to chart energy usage and enable residents to make adjustments accordingly.
  • A remote thermostat communication capacity that enhances the ability to micromanage temperature settings for a variety of circumstances.
  • Perhaps most exciting, a vehicle-to-grid technology that allows a hybrid auto to plug into a garage outlet. When the vehicle is charged but not in use, the power contained within the vehicle's batteries can be used by the grid—potentially assisting in further reducing peak demand.

In the years to come, residents of Boulder and other communities will play an important role in managing their household and business energy budgets and assisting their utility company in shaving peak demand; thereby avoiding the construction of additional generating capacity. Carbon-reducing technologies such as those being piloted in the chancellor's smart residence will continue to evolve as will their effective application. In the meantime, the University of Colorado at Boulder and its chancellor are pleased to be playing a key role in this transformation.

SUBMITTED BY Frank W. Bruno, vice chancellor for administration, the University of Colorado at Boulder

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