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Business Officer Magazine

Making Informed Decisions

In these sessions, attendees considered how they can redesign and implement new business practices, overcome resistance to institutional change, and cultivate efficiency.

Transformational Change Is Hard

Incremental changes are not enough to address decreasing financial resources and increasingly complex administrative burdens. At the University of Kansas, leaders decided on a comprehensive campaign of change, simultaneously implementing 11 major initiatives that addressed every administrative process on campus. The session "How Much Change Can a University Absorb at Once?" told the story.

Processes to be streamlined included budgeting, construction management, enrollment management, facilities, human resources, information technology, library operations, procurement, research administration, and shared service centers. The university enlisted the help of Huron Education to guide them through the undertaking.

As examples of the university's change management, presenters shared details of three areas: procurement, which was reframed as "strategic sourcing"; facilities, where operations were consolidated; IT, which needed standardization; and shared service centers, a new concept that required a substantial culture shift.

Finally, presenters shared some of the lessons they've learned. Among them:

  • Clearly articulate objectives. "Say what you're going to do, and then do what you said," noted Diane Goddard, vice provost for finance and administration.
  • Understand the university's appetite for change and capacity to change, based on available resources. Also, "Find the strength in your traditions and build those up while you're changing everything else," Goddard said.
  • Engage faculty, process owners, and key campus stakeholders at every stage of the process.
  • Block pathways to the old ways to re-enforce commitments to change.

And finally, in answer to the question, "How much change can a university absorb at once?" the presenters declared, "Two to three times as much as they initially think they can."

New Expectations for Deans

Enrollment at Drexel University, a private urban research university in Philadelphia that is highly reliant on tuition-related revenue, more than doubled between 1995 and 2012. For example, biology majors grew from 50 to 250 students in just three years—making it very difficult for the department to accommodate without overburdening instructor workloads and laboratory space.

Panelists in the session "Evolution of the Dean: From Academic Leader to Institutional Leader" described how Drexel, together with Huron Education, turned to a new responsibility centered management process to address the rapid growth and enrollment concerns, giving priority to the school's historic commitment to cooperative education.

Under the new approach, academic deans became significantly more involved in:

  • Enrolling quality students who identify with Drexel's mission.
  • Understanding the processes for allocation of university resources.
  • Planning long term for faculty, renovations, and operational budgets.
  • Working with other units to maximize resources.

Deans became much more aware of overhead costs at the institution, in some cases reporting "shock" at such costs. On the other hand, the new access to financial information empowered them to be knowledgeable decision makers, enabling them to question internal audit and management and to ask if their respective departments are receiving the "best bang for their buck." Academic units are now encouraged to find additional revenue sources to fund college goals.

The process to develop and nurture campus buy-in continues. However, overall, there is now increased transparency, accountability, and greater inclusiveness in evaluating the best use of resources. 

Expand Your Global Operations

Institutions that are planning to expand their operations overseas need to be aware of and think through several issues such as agreements, governance, finance, personnel, and sustainability, said speakers at a session titled "Fostering Organizational Effectiveness in a Global Educational Environment."

Kathyrn Symank, chief operating officer, Northwestern University in Qatar, said that although universities will have different agreements with the host countries, some issues remain standard. These include the establishment of a campus, operating characteristics, management and operations, personnel, facilities, security, budget and financial management, intellectual property, and termination and disputes.

Speaking on governance issues, Amol Dani, chief operating officer, Georgetown University in Qatar, said that one question that institutions often face is, "How does the home campus relate to the branch campus overseas, and how does that relate to the host countries?" The branch campus has to comply with laws of the home and the host country. Reporting requirements are significant and often involve the president, provost, and dean of the home campus, as well as the donor of funds, and local establishments. "It's a complex set of relationships that need to be managed proactively," Dani said.

Stephen Kenney, chief administrative officer, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, discussed financial issues, such as:

  • Is there an alignment of tuition pricing and educational delivery costs?
  • What's the local cost of living, relative to the home country?
  • What are the fundraising and local tax laws?

Putting Data to Work

What do you do with the data once you've collected it? Kamalika Sandell and Nana An, representing the IT and finance functions at American University, along with Noah Rosenberg, formerly of the Education Advisory Board, explored that question in the session "Making Analytics Matter."

Sandell and An illustrated the approach of cross-functional collaboration with an informative and humorous presentation on how a university task force was charged with bridging a $150 million multiyear deficit.

Two case studies illustrated the university's transformation. The first case addressed space utilization on campus and how the task force used actionable data, focused data analysis, and data-driven decisions to disprove the notion that residence halls and learning spaces were at capacity. The second case examined the reconciliation between enrollment numbers and projected tuition revenue. Using data, leaders broke the loop of "Too early to tell, too late to fix."

Through this process, American University made the transition from being data centric to becoming analytically mature, by streamlining metrics into actionable decision making.

Read the main story.