The Role of SPOL in a Wavering Higher Education Budget Climate

Posted by Crystal Braden, M.S. on Aug 31, 2018 10:53:00 AM

As a professional in a field that serves higher education institutions daily, few things are more evident than the wavering budget climate in higher education.

I hear it so often:

“There isn’t budget for something like this.” “The state is cutting our funding.” “Enrollment is down and tuition is frozen.”

In these situations, software guiding planning and accreditation are often not seen as priorities. 

This leaves me wondering: 

“Is THIS the place to make cuts when the chips are down?” “Don’t people realize the importance of these things?” 

The answers to these questions are a resounding and conflicting “No.” and “No.” 

But how can I say this with authority?  Because I’ve been there, done that, and feel your pain.

Let’s discuss why a budget downturn could be precisely the right time to make an investment in SPOL.

In a budget downturn, institutions are generally more scrutinized by state and federal entities, accreditors, and even donors to prove what the money they have is being used for, and how it is supporting the goals of the institution. Such information (or lack thereof) can impact future allocations. Integrating planning and budget provides a clear look at what your funding is going to and what corresponding institutional priorities are being supported, allowing institutions to prove mission support by the budget.

Unfortunately, during budgeting crises, there can often be a loss of transparency in the budgeting process. When cuts need to be made on the fly, there is usually little communication about what is being cut and why. Instead, there may be a sprint to reallocate funds. Why? Likely, there wasn’t a transparent process for allocating the funds in the first place.  

SPOL takes the guesswork out of budgeting by offering a transparent way to request funds and understand why they were approved or denied. The same holds true when adjustments need to be made, even mid-stream, to satisfy mandated cuts.

When budget cuts happen, especially mid-year, the practice is usually to hand down the cuts as a percentage across the board, rather than to prioritize needed expenditures and make cuts where they don’t hurt quite as much.

With SPOL, budget items are prioritized from the very beginning. That way, no matter when a budget cut gets handed down, it is easy to see which areas can absorb the blow of a 25% cut, instead of having every entity on campus feel the pain of a 10% across the board cut.  The items that are cut can even be forecasted into the next year and given priority there, so that nothing that is cut faces the possibility of being forgotten and permanently cut.

Often, we see budget cuts affecting personnel in the way of layoffs and furloughs, and freezing positions open positions. A platform like SPOL can help curb the need for additional personnel expenses. Perhaps an IR or IE office would hire an analyst or manager to help collect and document information for continuous improvement and assessment. With SPOL, that staff position might not even be necessary. For less than the cost of a single FTE, SPOL can assist in the collection and organization of assessment and continuous improvement data.

Scraping by with less than adequate processes for budget planning and continuous improvement tracking can make a bad budget situation worse. When funds are low, neglecting these items to save a buck can cause a domino effect of catastrophic proportions.

  1. Further loss of funding due to lack of tracking and transparency of process; or
  2. Accreditation sanctions resulting from sloppy of non-existent continuous improvement documentation in the absence of a cut, furloughed, or tabled personnel position; or
  3. Additional sanctions for improper linkage of budget priorities to the institutional mission and lack of transparency of process.

 These are just some examples.  Doesn’t it then seem wise to mitigate those risks with a management tool that can actually improve your situation? For what it’s worth, my answer is yes.  What’s yours?

Topics: Institutional Effectiveness