Budgeting in an Era of Political and Institutional Turmoil

Budgeting in an Era of Political and Institutional Turmoil

Mark Allan Kinders (University of Central Oklahoma, USA), Peggy Glenn (Northeastern State University, USA) and Gregory M. Wilson (University of Central Oklahoma, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2410-7.ch003
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Abstract

Higher education has existed in a maelstrom for more than two decades of contentious debates on its costs, outcomes, and value. Critics abound among elected officials and decision-makers. Likewise, there is a drumbeat of criticism from within the academy that orbits around mission drift, leadership failures, and questionable practices in pursuit of new revenue. This political and policy dilemma will remain unresolved over the next decade. Such questions of efficiency and effectiveness ultimately impact college budgetary decisions and pose a threat to financial viability. For each criticism or suggested solution there is quite likely to be an opposing opinion that could be grounded in biases or self-interest. Therefore, institutional leaders must be holistic thinkers whose optimal solutions to budgetary challenges must embrace the best practices that cover the full spectrum of providing equal access to a quality education, discovering new knowledge, and serving as stewards of place within their service areas.
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Introduction

Open virtually any book or journal that addresses the current environment of higher education over the past two decades, whether it is either a critique or defense, and one is almost certain to see the question: “Why does college cost so much?”

That question has dominated public discussion on the cost and value of a higher education. It has the largest spotlight shined on it because of the recognition that in an information age economy, the knowledge imparted through a college education increasingly separates the future fortunes in American society between those who have a college degree from those who do not.

The conversation is contentious, dominated by point and counterpoint, assertions and contradictions. The intensity of the debate, with criticism from within and without higher education, should serve as a cautionary note to administrators and faculty leaders to thoroughly explore and comprehend fiscal decision-making in a framework that does not falsely lead to supreme confidence in optimal choices and solutions.

These forces play into the budgeting challenges that have confronted public higher education institutions, and to a lesser degree private institutions. That tension has only increased since the Great Recession as the majority of states have reduced or flattened their support. The unanswered question is whether higher education is sufficiently ingrained as a public good in the nation’s consciousness that will inspire the government to begin reinvestments? This national conversation also has a concomitant impact on private institutions that are subject to questions of educational costs and future value to graduates for a once-in-a-lifetime investment.

There is no silver bullet or easy answers to solving this entrenched dilemma. Writing in 2009, the former president of Miami University of Ohio, James Garland, offered an insight that remains true a decade after his pronouncement:

Most public universities have become the organizational embodiment of Newton’s Third Law, where every action prompts an equal and opposite reaction. And as forces from all directions whipsaw deans, vice presidents, provosts, and presidents, it can seem that change in the academy comes not by planning and foresight but by an uncoordinated drifting of the center of mass…. (p. 64).

This chapter will explore the conflicting political philosophies of decision-makers that has resulted in the steady decline of public funding for higher education as a reliable and predictable funding source. The consequences will be explored through the level of concern in 2019 by chief business officers of all higher education tiers as to the fiscal standing of their institutions, and their impression of the willingness and ability of the academy to confront this new reality. The varying methodologies of higher education institutions and private consultants to assess fiscal health will be discussed. Concluding the chapter is a robust discussion on which alternative revenue streams are being pursued on campuses, and the essentiality of visionary, charismatic leadership to recognize opportunities where others may only see gloom and doom.

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