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Economic Models Project

NACUBO developed a tool, the Economic Models Project Journey, to assist chief business officers and other college and university leaders in engaging in the critical, and sometimes difficult, discussions at their institutions about their current and future economic models. Key to these discussions is understanding that all functions and activities, all inputs and outputs, of an organization contribute to its financial well-being. Thus, discussions about financial sustainability are not limited to the business office or accounting function; they must include all aspects and cross all silos of the college or university.

If your institution would like assistance in implementing the Economic Models Project Journey, please contact NACUBO Consulting.


Jim Hundrieser

Vice President, Consulting and Business Development


The Economic Models Project Journey


NACUBO developed this tool to assist colleges and universities in developing their own paths to financial sustainability. The tool does not propose any one solution nor a simple checklist for institutions. Rather, we believe that the unique attributes of colleges and universities in the United States are one of the industry’s strengths.

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Four Key Areas

The Journey guides the user through the four key areas of the business model: mission, structure, strengths, and resources.

It provides lists of questions for institutional members to use to assess the current state and define their desired future.

Begin the Journey


The Journey's guidance offers suggestions about how college and university leaders can set the stage for change, and provides metrics that they can use to monitor and evaluate progress.

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Resource Library

Explore selection of articles, books, podcasts, reports, research papers, and toolkits.

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Project Background

In 2014, recognizing that the financial sustainability of colleges and universities was challenged by internal and external forces, the NACUBO Board of Directors commissioned the Economic Models Project. They realized that reductions in public funding and endowment returns, changing demographics, and increasing cynicism about the value of higher education, coupled with reliance on traditional missions and structures, required institutions to actively engage in examination of their existing business models and envision new ones.

To assist our members in their efforts, the NACUBO Project first developed a series of white papers. Two, written by NACUBO staff, examine the current economic model and explore how colleges and universities are innovating. Five additional authors provide perspectives on issues ranging from recognizing the public good contribution of academic labor to measuring productivity at the course and institution levels in a series on academic productivity supported by the TIAA Institute.

Hundreds of college and university leaders contributed to the development of this project. Particular acknowledgment is due to the TIAA Institute for its support of related research on academic productivity and to the following individuals who served as project advisors: Jacalyn Askin, Bryan Alexander, Maria Anguiano, Audrey Bilger, Mike Gower, Teresa Hardee, Barbara Larson, Devorah Lieberman, Beth Paul, Beth Reissenweber, Sue Perkins, Gary Rhoades, Bob Shea, Vernon Smith, Howard Teibel, and Lynn Valenter.