Using Data for Effective School Budget Decision Making

by | May 15, 2024 | Education

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Any major decision a business makes has an impact across the organization. That impact could directly affect employees or customers, and it could be positive or negative. When it comes to higher education, colleges and universities have their own little worlds that can be affected by any one administrative decision. It is important, then, that the people making those decisions have the best information possible available to them.

An analytics solution can help make sure the correct information is being used by the decision-makers. Here are a few recent examples of the types of decisions schools are making every day, and how important data can be to the process.

Setting the budget

Although it seems natural to think of a school year as September through June, decision-makers are concerned about the fiscal calendar when they make one of their biggest decisions every year. The university budget is the one piece of the puzzle under which all other decisions follow. When setting that budget, which includes elements such as tuition, salaries, departmental budgets, and facility improvements, university administrators must consider data from all corners of campus.

That means the data itself is important, but how the data is gathered and presented is equally important. At some universities, departments might be using different technology when gathering information. It is important that the information decision-makers are looking at when they set a budget is comprehensive, so an analytics solution must be able to integrate data from disparate sources. If not, the data is telling an incomplete story, and the resulting budget won’t reflect everyone’s needs.



Cutting programs

One of the results of that budget-setting might be the elimination of programs. There could be a few reasons for a change like this, from declining enrollment in the program to an attempt to modernize offerings to students in an effort by the university to stay competitive against peer schools. Whatever the reason, this is another decision that isn’t taken lightly by administrators, and once again data must be brought into the conversation.

When a school cuts a program, it isn’t just eliminating a line item on a spreadsheet. Unless enrollment has dropped to zero, there are students pursuing a degree, and instructors who might be losing a job. That needs to be considered along with the numbers. St. Cloud State University, a public university in Minnesota, recently announced the results of two years of investigations into how it could save millions of dollars. The school concluded its revenue is still strong, but it has too many expenses. As a result, it has proposed eliminating more than 40 degree programs and about 50 minors over the next couple of years, as well as cutting 57 faculty positions. Like many schools in a similar position, the students in the discontinued programs will still be able to complete their degrees.

Schools being forced to close

Sometimes the numbers tell a story that a college deems unfixable. So many colleges and universities have permanently closed their doors in recent years that websites tracking the higher education industry need to keep running tabs on the trend. This, too, is a decision that comes down to the numbers, and it obviously has a wider effect on a college community than individual programs being shut down.

Sometimes, though, a school that closes its doors sees another door open, to borrow a metaphor. Through a school merging with a usually larger and more financially stable school, students can continue their learning in the same spot and maybe only see the college name on their degree change. This opportunity presents a challenge in that there is no guarantee the acquiring school has the same technological infrastructure as the school that otherwise would have been closed. Here again, an institution must have a solution in place that can not only take the data from different departments on its own campus and integrate it, but it might also need to do the same with data from a completely different school and technology system. This will ensure that for students the transition is seamless, as their records and the school’s financial data can be included in all decisions moving forward.

The data does not always have to be negative. Decisions could revolve around the growth of higher education institutions, and data can help inform leadership changes, facility improvements, and healthy admission numbers. Whether it is for positive or negative reasons, and whether it impacts alumni, current students, or the surrounding community, analytics ensures that the people making the decisions can confidently point to the data they used to draw their conclusions.

John Sucich
Follow me

You may also like