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How Higher Ed is Raising the Bar for Financial Planning

January 18, 2017
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One of the exciting things that happens as we enter a new year is observing the buzz in the air as a new crop of students enter their final stretch toward receiving their college degrees. Higher education is an enormously important sector of our economy throughout the country and here in Massachusetts in particular, it reigns as a critical economic driver. Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston and Wellesley are just the beginning of the great institutions in the area.I find it tremendously helpful to look at financial planning processes in various industries to whether we find parallels or innovation points, very often seeing how others do things can benefit our own operations. Academia management is one of those unsung heroes that doesn’t often command the spotlight and you may be surprised at what you encounter when you enter the world of education providers.Colleges and universities accounting offices face unprecedented challenges with producing and projecting metrics to help the administration manage their services and facilities. Whether it’s growth or contraction, evaluating online opportunities or competition, or stabilizing or enhancing enrollment and graduation rates, it’s not an easy job.Picture how your company or organization compares. Who are you accountable to? Owners, stockholders, customers, and employees are the primary ones that come to mind. And higher ed? They’re accountable to just about everyone. Students, parents, professors, researchers and staff of course. The local communities, high schools, employers, and associations they participate in. Then there are often donors, a myriad of governmental agencies, and financial lending institutions. I bet if we asked, any academic administrator could rattle off a dozen more.As with anything complicated, strategic planning and budgeting for colleges and universities is optimized when business processes, technologies and tools, and personnel considerations are approached in a systemic way. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of academic administration but we have several clients that have benefited from tackling their planning by modernizing their financial planning and forecasting software.The metrics the education sector uses are considerable so here are just a few:

  • Revenue source segmentation - services, grants, endowments and ongoing donations each must be tagged to ensure that expectations of contractual agreements are being met or exceeded.
  • The teacher to student ratio is a huge consideration for prospective enrollees. During strategic planning, these drivers and their ratio require continually monitoring.
  • Operational metrics are needed at an intimate level by college boards. Retention rates, new students engagement, graduation rates, and the number of degrees awarded in each field are staples in the academic world.

When facing the conditions we each encounter at of our companies and non-profits, take a look at how things are handled with grant monitoring, scholastic awards, and financial aid if you were benchmarking your score cards with academia.The universal challenges that we confront of shifting job markets, technological opportunities, and economic uncertainty are magnified for different sectors. How we each handle the need for transparency and accountability and how we implement the methodology varies and it helps to allot some time on your schedules to open your world and look beyond your industry for answers and insights.

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