Money management accounts for more of academic leaders’ time

Higher ed chief academic officers increasingly rate financial management as most time-consuming responsibility

Money is on the minds and dominating the days of higher ed chief academic officers now more than ever. When 241 CAOs from independent colleges reported this year on their most time-consuming activities, 40% ranked budgeting and financial management as their top activity. That’s up from 27% in 2009 and 29% in 2013, according to Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) research.

“A Study of Chief Academic Officers at Independent Colleges and Universities, 2009-2019” documents changes in CAO activities and responsibilities at CIC member colleges and universities in response to today’s higher education environment. One motivation for the research is the wide-ranging differences among CAO duties from institution to institution.

The top two functions that CIC chief academic officers reported spending the most time on in 2019 were supervising academic personnel, including deans (65 percent), and curriculum and academic programs (54 percent). Budgeting/financial management earned the number three spot.

The finance piece won’t surprise CAOs, as they’ve been experiencing the need to focus on it for years, says CIC President Richard Ekman. “The surprise may be for others—alumni, some faculty members and parents—who hold the older view that the CAO is the main figure in curricular and faculty matters, and whatever he (or she) and the various faculty committees decide to do will be translated into marching orders—with others responsible for figuring out the funding and budgeting.”

“That division of territory,” Ekman adds, “is no longer operative on most campuses.”

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The reporting of enrollment management as a time-consuming activity for CAOs, which more than doubled from 6% in 2009 to 13% in 2019, may be related to finance as top-of mind.

Other duties tied to budget and finance, however, have remained flat or decreased slightly. Entrepreneurial activities were noted as time-consuming duties by about 6% of CAOs in both 2009 and 2019. Strategic planning activities decreased from 35% in 2013 to 31% in 2019 (in 2009, however, only 28% of CAOs named such duties as time-consuming).

The movement toward more time spent on finance may indicate a need for a greater knowledge base from formal training as well as additional cross-campus conversation in this area. “Clearly this shift has implications for professional development for CAOs,” says Ekman. “It requires different kinds of collaboration between the academic and financial officers of the institution.”

Read the full study here.

Melissa Ezarik is senior managing editor of UB.

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