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Business Officer Magazine

Make Way for Manning

Having worked her way up the professional ladder, Gaye Manning, NACUBO’s board chair for 2007–08, says the experience has made her tenacious, respectful of other opinions, and mindful of the big picture.

By Jeffrey N. Shields

While Manning says that she was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to become vice chancellor, a peer describes her as “driven by forces to ensure that anything that she is involved in is successful” and “by a dedication to make higher education a better place.” This steady focus and tenacity have carried over to her considerable volunteer commitments and contributed to her rise to the top of SACUBO, the Arkansas Association of College and University Business Officers, and now NACUBO. And the fact that she represents a community college—not so common among her predecessors in NACUBO’s top volunteer spot—also reflects a persistence that has paid off in leadership roles in the organizations that mean the most to her. Along the way, Manning has been a role model—especially for women—as an effective chief business officer and as a highly engaged volunteer.

In an interview with Business Officer, Manning talked about her more than 20 years in higher education administration, describing her total commitment to the profession and her passion for volunteer leadership—served up “Southern style.” 

You work at a community college and that differs from the kinds of institutions represented by your immediate predecessors in the role of NACUBO Board Chair. What significance might that have for your term as chair?
I’d be dishonest if I didn’t tell you that in the beginning it gave me pause. I spent several hours talking to my network of colleagues about concerns that the membership wouldn’t be as receptive to me as a community college business officer who has always worked at the same institution. It was intimidating. But I have learned through my work with the state and regional associations and with NACUBO that although each institution is unique—with different goals and agendas—we still have many things in common. And I don’t care if you’re talking about the chief business officer of a research university with a $2 billion budget or of my community college with a $10 million budget, we share similar experiences and challenges. Understanding that commonality helps me quite a bit. 

However, we do have a great membership opportunity with business officers from two-year institutions. Today, 1,200 community colleges represent about 50 percent of all student enrollment. That is significant. Community colleges do deal with some unique challenges that students bring to our campuses. As board chair, I hope to bring some of these issues to light and to help the regional associations recognize what the needs of two-year college administrators—and students—really are. If I can also help NACUBO to gain a similar understanding, we might be able to make a greater impact on our community college membership.

What do you think members will find most beneficial in NACUBO’s strategic plan?
The long-range strategic plan will be helpful to our members for a couple of reasons. First, the plan is concise, goal specific, and the length of about four typed pages, which is a big plus. A member does not have to read through a thick document to understand the mission, vision, and goals of our association. More important, members can easily identify our three primary goals—to equip business officers with the knowledge and resources to succeed, to present the case for higher education as an integral part of our social fabric, and to prepare business officers for the future. They can see how the goals and their related priority objectives are specifically tailored to address the identified needs, both current and emerging, of our membership.

Another thing that we need to point out to people is that this plan was not put together by one or two people or by a small group. It involved every NACUBO staff member and every board member [collectively representing the needs of all constituents groups of the membership]. The document is well thought through—it’s all inclusive and member focused.

On a macro scale, what are the specific issues that you see business officers wrestling with today?
The number one issue is the instability of state funding, because it has a domino effect on so many of the other challenges we currently deal with. We’re in a competitive environment, vying for students by offering degrees that often do not align with our original mission. And, it costs money to add programs and services that will attract students. Because we are looking for alternative funding methods, my campus has hired a full-time grant writer. Fundraising has become a big issue on my campus. Ten years ago, we didn’t think about that very much. But now we’re trying to serve more and more students. And, of course, we’re asked to be more and more accountable for the money while we stretch those funds in so many different ways. That’s becoming very difficult. We’re trying to be good stewards of ever-shrinking amounts of money.

Another challenge on my campus—and common to many schools—is retention. I cannot tell you how many new students who enrolled in the fall semester will not come back in the spring. We know part of the reason for that, but we really don’t understand the whole picture. Many students are so underprepared that they spend their first one or two years in developmental courses. That has a major impact, because those courses don’t count toward an overall degree but they still cost the student tuition dollars to enroll. This issue cuts across every sector in higher education today. Two-year institutions may experience this trend a little more, but all institutions have the same problem.

Third, tuition fees are skyrocketing. And I am afraid that there’s going to come a day when we have totally priced ourselves out of the market. While access to two-year schools is much easier because the fees are lower, costs are steadily rising. Unless things change, our tuition isn’t going to be that much lower than that of a four-year institution. And that’s simply because we can’t survive on state money alone.

Colleagues Comment 

Two decades in higher education have netted Gaye Manning a rich network of mentors and colleagues in the profession. Here’s what some of them have to say about the woman who will lead NACUBO in the year ahead.

“Gaye leads by example. She is strong and focused and always follows through with her commitments. She is also the embodiment of Southern charm. But, don’t let that fool you. She is a no-nonsense professional.”
 — PATRICIA L. FARRIS, former vice president of administrative affairs and CFO, California State Polytechnic University

“Gaye’s greatest skills are leadership, work ethics, and the ability to obtain consensus from very diverse populations. She has the true ability to set aside personal feelings and goals for the good of the organization, whether regional or national. In that group of people qualified to lead NACUBO, she stands
above the rest.”
— DAVID BOSSERMAN, vice president for administration and finance, Oklahoma State University

“She makes work a lot of fun with her great sense of humor and seemingly easy-going style, but the work gets done. I know she brings a sense of committed focus to her role as NACUBO Board Chair along with a great deal of personal warmth and Southern style.”
— PAT GUSTAVSON,vice president for finance and administration, John Brown University

“Gaye’s greatest leadership trait is her dedication to the organizations of SACUBO and NACUBO as a way to make higher education a better place to work and to provide broad education opportunities to a wide range of individuals. She is driven by forces to ensure that anything that she is involved in is successful and will impact others in a positive way.”
— TOM DORRE, associate athletic director and CFO, University of Arkansas

What role do you think NACUBO and its board can play to help members understand the student loan controversy and help them manage this issue at their institutions?
In the midst of this unfortunate situation, NACUBO must help inform and educate our members about the events and the marketplace environment that contributed to the student loan upset. We should also be on top of— and be one of the first associations to communicate about—any new regulations or changes that may result from ongoing reviews and investigations. Finally, NACUBO must offer well-researched advice and practical guidelines as to how institutions can continue providing financial counseling services to their students without fear of violating any perceived ethical standard or code of conduct.

We often hear discussion about chief business officers who come into the profession from areas outside of higher education. What are your thoughts on this trend and how might NACUBO and the regional associations serve these individuals?
I’ve met many new business officers who began their careers outside of higher education. It’s important for all of the higher education associations to better understand the needs of these individuals. I met someone two or three years ago at a SACUBO program at which I was speaking. While we were talking, the man said, “I’d been in private industry all of my life when I decided to move into higher education—which is so different. I don’t understand the language, the environment; and there are a lot of things that I don’t know. I’m hoping this program will help me transition.” 

And for me the light bulb went off, and I thought, “We’d better take advantage of this.” He was basically saying, “I need help.” We’d be overlooking a great opportunity if NACUBO and the regional associations didn’t pay attention to this group of professionals. It’s one of the things I’ll be focusing on this year.

What challenges have you overcome in your career in higher education?
From what I’ve seen, we women often do have to work our way up the ladder. We don’t start at the top right off the bat. When I became vice chancellor, for example, very few women held the position. I believe there may have been only two other females in the state that were in similar roles. 

However, I’ve always felt confident in myself. I worked hard; and, along the way, I made every mistake that could be made on campus. But I learned valuable lessons, and I can tell you I didn’t repeat those mistakes. There were days when I felt like I had to work a little bit harder than my colleagues, but it never really bothered me. It was something that I knew I’d probably have to do for a while until I proved myself. Now, I don’t even think about it.

It was a series of vacancies and retirements that opened up the controller position. At the time, I’d held many of the lower-level jobs—but when the controller spot became available, I knew I wanted it. I made up my mind that “I can do this,” and so I applied for the position. And the chancellor at the time hired me for it. After I was able to move to that level, I thought: “I’m not going to stop until I get to the top.” And that’s what happened.

How has your volunteer service helped you understand and relate to higher education organizations and their members?
I’ve been an association volunteer for the past 15 years in state, regional, and national organizations. I’ve learned one very important thing that has proven to be consistent at all levels: Associations must not only understand the compelling issues that their members and stakeholders face, but they must also be responsive in addressing the related needs in a timely manner. In fact, if an association is really on the ball, its leadership will anticipate the emerging needs of the membership even before the individuals are aware of those needs. 

Additionally, people tend to belong to associations and organizations because they are looking for expert knowledge, answers to problems, opportunities to network, professional and personal development, and anything else that will benefit them and their organizations. All of these reasons translate into opportunities to deliver member value. That is why it is so critical that association and volunteer staffs work together to continually critique and evaluate whether value is truly being received.

A Manning Minibiography
Family: husband, Gerald (director, physical plant, SAU Tech); son, Zachary (junior, University of Arkansas)
Nurturing Interests: gardening, Arkansas Razorbacks, Thomas Kinkade paintings and poems
Words to Live By: “Life’s journey is not to arrive safely at heaven’s door in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn-out, shouting, ‘Holy smoke, what a ride!’”
Greatest Professional Passion: involvement in the Southern Association of College and University Business Officers (SACUBO)
Degree: bachelor of business administration, Southern Arkansas University; master’s of business administration, Henderson
State University

Why have you devoted so much energy to volunteer activities—and how have your experiences as a volunteer leader prepared you for being board chair of NACUBO?
I love being a part of a group, giving back to the profession, and keeping busy. I’ll do just about anything; I simply like to help. But that’s not why I first got involved as a volunteer with my state business officers association. It was because certain individuals saw something in me that I did not see in myself at the time. And due to these people—who saw my potential and really mentored me [see sidebar “Colleagues Comment”]—I am where I am today. In my role as NACUBO Board Chair, nothing would give me more happiness than to help someone who is as apprehensive as I was—to be responsible for that positive effect on someone else.

Interacting with other volunteers has probably most helped me to appreciate each and every one of our board members. We have some unique individuals who bring different backgrounds to the table. As a group, we represent every type of member institution that NACUBO serves and supports. And, if anything, experience has taught me to respect all of those different opinions, even though I may not always agree with them. And I hope that I’ll always take the time to really listen to what everyone has to say. That’s important to my role, which is to coordinate everyone’s efforts, explore other perspectives, bring it all to the table, and then try to facilitate decisions that will best meet our members’ needs. 

How would you articulate to the membership your plan for leading the NACUBO Board?
A board is only as good as the level of its directors’ involvement. That is why it is so critical for the board to make decisions and set priorities based on input from every board member and on sound, comprehensive data. I’ll make sure that board agendas directly link to the long-range strategic plan and that the issues we discuss are the ones of most concern to members—and most likely to accomplish NACUBO’s overall objectives.

I’ll continue to foster and nurture the relationships between the regional boards and NACUBO.  John Walda and Morgan Olsen have been quite proactive in rebuilding relationships this past year. Because of these ongoing efforts, the overall board experience will continue to improve in terms of the board’s effectiveness and its ability to deliver value across the organizations.

I am also very passionate about ACUBO and the efforts that have been made to revitalize the partnership activities. I’ll work closely with Stan Nosek as he leads us through the implementation of the Professional Resources and Events Planner. PREP is a database of professional development resources—developed by the five associations of college and university officers—that will align with the curriculum framework of important competencies identified through an earlier survey of association members.

Finally, I think the membership should know just how exceptional John Walda’s first year has been as CEO and President of NACUBO.  I will continue the practice of communicating with John on a regular basis. Together, we’ll gain insight into the concerns of the board, our members, and the staff such that we can align our priorities with what matters most.

JEFFREY N. SHIELDS is vice president, community and member services, at NACUBO.