COVID-19 Coverage : See how the pandemic is impacting the world of higher education.
Access the Business Officer Magazine menu by clicking or touching here.
Business Officer Magazine logo, click or touch this logo to return to the homepageClick or touch the Business Officer Magazine logo to return to the homepage.
Get back to the Business Officer Magazine homepage by clicking the logo.

Business Intel

October 2018

Annual Meeting Takeaways

Ways to Engage Unit Business Officers

Achieving financial sustainability and success as an institution is difficult enough in today’s business environment of limited resources. It’s even more challenging when collaboration is absent among colleagues who, in theory, are working for the same team. That sense of a lack of partnership was evident among the 22 unit business officers at the University at Buffalo (UB), Buffalo, N.Y., spread throughout the largely decentralized institution serving nearly 20,000 undergraduate and 10,000 graduate students. 

Laura Barnum, UB’s former associate vice president for resource planning, and Beth Corry, associate vice president and controller, were central in helping re-establish trust and a common understanding about mission among the university’s business office staff. As they detailed in their session “Engaging Unit Business Officers,” the process of regaining that team spirit and implementing an integrated resource planning approach was neither simple nor quick, and required transparency at every level. They presented at the NACUBO 2018 Annual Meeting, July 21–24, in Long Beach, Calif. Read also, “SoCal Collaborations”.

Taking Stock

The first step back to an esprit de corps required undertaking a reality check on the current work environment. Recent leadership transitions among the provost and vice president for finance and administration provided a natural opportunity for such an across-the-board assessment and evaluation that kicked off in 2013. A listening tour with deans and vice presidents unearthed the hard truth: Interactions with unit business officers were largely transactional, and there was a general lack of trust in budget data or the budgeting process. 

More specifically, in broader conversations with key leaders and with central and supporting business officer staff, it quickly became clear that the roles and responsibilities of unit business officers were not well understood or defined, data hoarding was prevalent, and the lack of a consistent annual budget cycle contributed to a silo operation mentality. 

When unit business officers were asked how their work environment should operate, among the solutions suggested were these: 

Paying Attention to Process

The need for greater transparency, collaboration, and consistency likewise pointed to the need for better training, well-articulated policies, and improved communication. Much of the breakdown in an efficient and effective work environment was the result not of the people, but of the process—or the lack of process. For one, because of the lack of a consistent budget cycle, units were uncertain when they would be asked for information. 

The lack of a centralized reporting system and standardized policies allowed for multiple shadow systems to develop—further exacerbating the problem of data consistency. And, a lack of regular communication, guidance, and training had resulted in fragmented relations between central business officer staff and unit staff members. 

To address these gaps, the university embarked on an ambitious course to change the work environment and culture, and improve overall engagement of unit business officers. New initiatives completed or in process include: 

Outcomes of this process have scored wins in efficiency and engagement. Since the start of this transition, unit budget closure time has decreased by three months on average. Seventy percent of unit business officers now serve on a committee. And, the university has seen a 95 percent increase in those who are using strategic reporting dashboards in their planning efforts.  

KARLA HIGNITE, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is a contributing editor for Business Officer.

By the Numbers

2018 Student Financial Services Benchmarking Study

Student financial service offices at U.S. colleges and universities manage student and staff account operations to ensure fiscal accountability, meet student needs, and achieve institutional goals. These operations include student account and loan receivables, student payments, credit balance refunds, third-party payments, staffing, and expenditures for student financial services.

The 2018 Student Financial Services Benchmarking Report provides data on these measures for FY17 (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 at most institutions). The report was released in September and is available by clicking on the “Research” tab at

See below for the By the Numbers infographic.


Building Resiliency

Florida State University, Tallahassee, is offering a new online tool to help students adjust to campus, improve mental health, increase resilience, and reduce stress.

The “Student Resilience Project” is an online, evidence-informed trauma resilience training tool developed by the Institute for Family Violence Studies at the FSU College of Social Work. The institute rolled out the tool with a soft launch Aug. 1, and this fall, it will fully launch the training, which will be required for all of FSU’s incoming freshmen and transfer students.

New Strategies 

The project uses highly engaging animation, videos, and numerous TED-talk style educational audio sessions from faculty and mental health providers. The training helps students build on their existing strengths and provides them with new strategies that promote health and teach crucial new resilience and coping skills.

Even if a student has never experienced trauma, the project helps prepare students to face future stressful situations and build skills to bounce back from negative experiences associated with change, grief and loss, frustration, and stress.

“FSU recognizes the need to provide more tools to respond to the increasing mental health needs of our students,” said Sally McRorie, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “The project is open and frank about mental health topics our students may face and is intended to destigmatize and encourage seeking help.”

Right now, freshmen can log on to watch short “What I Wish I Knew” videos of current FSU students talking about their first-year struggles and how they overcame them. The videos emphasize that while difficult experiences are common to everyone, students can get through them and there are resources on campus for every type of problem.

The website includes evidence-informed interventions, such as mindful meditation audios, music therapy, and journaling tips, which help students manage stress and build coping skills. The project aims to increase a sense of safety, connection, and belonging for students at FSU. It connects students to trauma-informed university and community resources and is designed to supplement existing educational and counseling interventions. For more information, visit  

By 2025, 25 percent of Dubai’s new buildings will be made using 3D printers.
— World Economic Forum

Fast Fact

Quick Clicks

Rapid Growth in Cybersecurity Jobs 

There will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions by 2021, according to the Cybersecurity Jobs Report 2018–2021 from Cybersecurity Ventures. Cybersecurity jobs have been unable to keep pace with the dramatic rise in cybercrime, which is predicted to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015. In 2017, the U.S. employed nearly 780,000 people in cybersecurity positions, with approximately 350,000 openings in this area, according to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, a program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce.

New Hires Lack Soft Skills 

New hires are not well prepared to perform at a high level in a professional environment, primarily because of insufficient soft skills such as emotional intelligence, negotiation and persuasion, and, notably, complex reasoning, according to Building Tomorrow’s Talent: Collaboration Can Close Emerging Skills Gap, the 2018 Bloomberg Next study sponsored by Workday. The report includes responses from 200 senior-level individuals from both academia and business. A surprising number of organizations lack formal plans and budgets for addressing the impact of emerging technologies, the study said. Business and academia are not collaborating as actively and effectively as they could be in preparing students for employment and reskilling individuals already in the workforce.

By The Numbers

2018 Student Financial Services Benchmarking Study

Source: NACUBO, 2018 Student Financial Services Benchmarking Report. Available online at