The COVID pandemic threw institutions worldwide for a loop in 2020. It’s safe to say that every higher education institution, small or large, private or public, had some sort of local strategic plan in place. However, those plans more often than not were either COVID modified or completely revamped because of the need to re-examine goals and objectives for planned initiatives, ongoing projects, and program development. Most of these institutional plans were dependent on mandates or policies from external agencies ranging from a state’s governor to the federal government to recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even plans as seemingly straightforward as onsite accreditation visits went out the window as agencies went virtual to keep reviewers and constituents safe. Many changes in external plans have a domino effect within institutional planning and budgeting – save some money here (no hotel bills or conference travel) but short falls in planned budget (marked decrease in freshmen enrollment and loss of food service/housing revenue,). An institution must consider and track external plans and objectives which negative deviation can cause trouble down the line.
- Plans, objectives, and mandates from external agencies can come from many sources, including but not limited to:
- College Districts (especially for community colleges)
- System Offices (think The Texas A&M or University of Illinois Systems)
- State agencies (the state Department of Education)
- Federal agencies (the US Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security)
- Foundations (particularly those that require grant-funded reports)
- Program and Regional Accrediting agencies (changing standards, criteria, or processes)
Any change in plan by any external body could result in significant – hopefully not catastrophic – changes in institutional planning and operations. Consider the federal government’s Gainful Employment reporting requirement, which, although only lasting a few years, forced institutional units to rethink how data was gathered and reported. Did that federal mandate mean the campus Institutional Research Office had to develop a way to capture that data? Did that mandate then affect any of the plans already proposed by the office for the academic year? Was it necessary to hire additional staff and equipment? What happens if the state issues a new five-year Strategic Plan that conflicts with the institution’s own five-year strategic plan? How do institutional personnel keep track of these interlocking plans and make adjustments accordingly?
An integrated platform that includes planning and budgeting should allow for such tracking. All plans internal and external to the institution should be posted to a single easy-to-navigate page available to campus leaders, which would allow the leaders to see how one plan objective aligns with an objective from another plan. The institution can then be better able to formulate and/or adjust its own objectives and make budget and workflow decisions with an eye toward reporting to multiple agencies. As a cloud-based platform would be visible 24/7/365, an institutional administrator, at for example a System meeting, would be able to quickly see and report on how campus objectives support System objectives. Campus budgets for objectives could be adjusted up or down as external objectives come online and impact institutional practices and procedures.
As the world continues to evolve in the wake of COVID-19, it’s clear that for higher education, planning for the immediate and distant future demands fluid alignment with plans by agencies external to the institution. It isn’t too late to embrace an online integrated platform that could help demonstrate and track that alignment efficiently. Partners such as SPOL specialize in providing customizable cloud-based platforms that meet your institution where you are. If you’d like to learn how SPOL can pivot your institution’s planning and budgeting efforts, reach out to us today for informed conversation catered to your specific needs and goals.