Enrollment is up, higher than last year. However, student morale is down. While Student Development is trying their hand at helping students’ mental health, the finance department is seeing what they can do to alleviate financial stress. An increase in student stress and government reporting has caused the Department of University Operations and Finance to reduce its financial footprint.
In a cost-cutting department restructure, Gordon Hummel has been promoted to associate vice president of finance. Hummel currently operates in the area of Trusts, Investments and Estate Services, but in January 2020 he will also assume responsibility for Financial Reporting, Accounting, and the Budget office.
INCREASING EFFICIENCY PROMOTES STUDENT AFFORDABILITY
The restructure is an attempt to increase efficiency while filling openings caused by a new early retirement program. Over the last seven years, the department has been steadily reducing salary costs, introducing technology and consolidating positions wherever possible in order to maximize effectiveness.
When it comes to payroll positions, vice president of university operations and finance Michael Pierce said the department is already fairly lean. When Hummel joined the university in 2007, his part of the department had nine people. That department is now four, he said. The finance team is grappling with government reporting regulations that have recently become more strenuous, both Pierce and Hummel explained.
Reporting requirements increase costs as the university is attempting to decrease tuition for students.
“Sometimes we think, ‘Does the government really understand student affordability when they add these extra regulations onto the job that we need to do?’” Pierce said. “The federal government [or] state government might do one thing on one day that drives up expenses at a university, and then they might do something on another day that says, ‘Student debt is too high and college is not affordable, what are you guys doing about it?’”
LONG-TERM DEMOGRAPHIC PLANNING
The restructure allows Pierce to make long-term plans for the university’s future, while Hummel handles routine needs—including things like fulfilling those regulatory requirements.
“The reason that we made this change with me is that Mike really needs to be looking forward at things and dealing with these planning issues and budget issues,” Hummel said. “And with as many reports as he’s had, the day to day stuff takes you right away from that. So my role is to keep things going on a day to day basis so that Mike can focus on the things that move the college forward.”
Pierce will now focus on analyzing data that allows the university to predict the school’s demographics in five years. According to Pierce, the school is anticipating a future decrease in enrollment due to the 2008 recession. At that time, families were choosing not to have children or were having children later in life. As a result, overall high school graduating classes will be smaller, which also means Biola can expect lower incoming student tuition revenue in 2024.
That demographic information also shapes the way the school spends its money and the services it offers. Pierce said, for example, that an increasing percentage of high school graduates are first-generation students, meaning the school may need more funding for programs geared toward acclimating students to college. The school is also looking at responding to rising demand for vocational degrees, as well as investing in programming that would address reports of a decline in students’ mental health.
“We also hear that these days, students seem to have more concerns that they’re bringing into the campus environment than prior generations,” Pierce said. “So there’s a desire to put more resources into areas like Student Development.”
EXCEPTIONALLY STRONG FINANCIAL STANDING
Depending on the results of a recent university census, this year’s incoming class may be either the second or third largest incoming class in Biola history. Pierce said the school saw a significant increase in graduate programs as well as post-traditional undergraduate students, which he described as students 25 years old or older who have had some college experience and are coming back to school.
Though the department continues to plan for the future, Pierce described the school’s financial standing as exceptionally strong, especially compared to other Christian liberal arts universities.
“If you compared our balance sheet to any of the other schools that you or your friends would have visited before you came to Biola, we would be stronger,” he said.