Higher ed finance: Getting money in, controlling money out

While relying less on student tuition and fees is the ideal situation for many higher ed institutions, it’s not surprising that finance administrators anticipate tuition revenue as the biggest funding boost for 2018.

Other areas with a starring role in additional funding projections are student fees and advancement income, from both philanthropic and corporate donors. The 66 respondents to the UB survey are keeping a close eye on spending as well, particularly health benefit costs.

More than 70 percent anticipate that spending in that area will go up modestly or significantly this year. However, 18 percent expect costs to hold to 2017 levels, and 11 percent believe health costs will actually decrease in 2018.

Spending on staff salaries, facilities construction and maintenance, or technology will be going up in each area for nearly two-thirds of respondents—who represent a variety of institution sizes, with about an even split between those at schools with 5,000 or less students and those at larger institutions.

But keeping up with technology is a challenge.

Forty-six percent say it’s one of the top overall priorities for this year. As one finance director noted, “We have a lot of data, but not updated technology to pull it into useful information.”

Updating technology-based financial tools is a top priority for about one in four respondents.

The most popular of the “top overall priorities” for the year is improving financial strategic planning processes, which nearly two-thirds of respondents selected from a list of 10 items. About half of the administrators will be focused on addressing administrative inefficiencies.

Thirty percent hope to improve cash flow.

Another concern is the ability to respond to a changing business climate. Less than half of respondents would grade their institutions’ agility as an A or B. The most common grade is a C, which 42 percent of finance administrators assigned themselves. 

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