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SoCal Collaborations

October 2018


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At the NACUBO 2018 Annual Meeting, impactful speakers and insightful learning sessions converged in Long Beach, Calif., to highlight how higher education is anchored in culture, ingenuity, and pride.

The following NACUBO staff members and consultants contributed photos, comments, and articles for this report: Monica Dillingham, Karla Hignite, Earla Jones, Sally Grans Korsh, LaTosha McNeal, Ankur Ponda, Khesia Taylor, Maryann Terrana, Preeti Vasishtha, and Tadu Yimam.

Photos by Event Photography of North America Corp. (EPNAC)

Long Beach, Calif., boasts a great renaissance story. At one time embroiled in the racial riots of the early 1990s, concerned residents, elected leaders, educators, and entrepreneurs of this coastal community nonetheless collectively dug in and over time, worked together to bridge social and cultural divides to bring Long Beach to its full potential. Its strong support of the Everyone In campaign to address homelessness across Los Angeles County is among the latest efforts by the city to recognize that a place is most resilient when all participate in its educational opportunities and economic prosperity.

Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson addressed the NACUBO 2018 Annual Meeting attendees during the opening main stage session and shared the culture shift it has required within city government to embrace a collaborative approach to problem solving. With nearly half a million residents, Long Beach ranks 36th in the nation by population—bigger than St. Louis or Pittsburgh, Richardson noted. Yet, it also retains a small-town feel. Sandwiched between Los Angeles and Orange counties, this booming port city is ethnically diverse with more than 60 distinct neighborhoods, 100 restaurants within an eight-mile stretch, abundant beach and bike paths, and a promise for every young person to continue to college, Richardson said. 

The Long Beach College Promise is placing higher education within reach for every student in the Long Beach Unified School District, providing a year of free community college to students meeting certain minimum requirements, and ongoing support and guidance through a partnership involving the district, the city, Long Beach City College, and California State University, Long Beach. The innovative initiative is not only transformative for students, but it will also further strengthen the city’s economic future and contribute to its cultural vibrancy and pride, Richardson said. 

A Warm Welcome Mat

One way Long Beach shared its pride with annual meeting attendees was in rolling out the red carpet for NACUBO’s opening event aboard the Queen Mary floating hotel and iconic landmark, where guests could explore the decks and soak in the history of the ship named after “England’s Greatest Queen” (sponsored by Aramark).

Programming at the 2018 annual meeting included more than 90 learning opportunities, breakout sessions and roundtables, and 149 exhibiting companies offering solutions for a broad range of campus management needs. The event drew a total registration of 2,525 attendees and exhibitors, including 1,703 full-conference registrants; 361 attending their first NACUBO annual meeting; and 60 international attendees representing 16 countries. Seventy business officers and business partner volunteers participated in the eleventh annual “Serving the Community” project in conjunction with the Long Beach Unified School District, to build a greenhouse at Beach High School (sponsored by BankMobile Disbursements, Sibson Consulting, Sodexo Universities, and TIAA.)

 Preconferences included the New Business Officers (NBO) program (sponsored by Ellucian), the Future Business Officers (FBO) program, and the 2018–19 NACUBO Fellows Program. 

A Year of Transition

Marking another milepost, this annual meeting also culminated 12 years of service for John Walda as NACUBO president and CEO. In his remarks, Walda shared his amazement at how much the higher education environment has changed during his tenure, and how much it has remained the same. “When I look back at my first letter to NACUBO’s membership in the July 2006 Business Officer, I outlined five areas of concern that I thought would shape the work of NACUBO for years to come,” Walda said, noting the significant uptick in NACUBO advocacy efforts during the past decade to directly address these areas of concern—all of which remain central to the work of the association. 

1. The decline of the ability and desire of federal and state government to directly support higher education. Inflation-adjusted appropriation amounts in 44 states were less in 2017 than in 2008, Walda said. (On the bright side, Pell Grant funding has nearly doubled and now supports more than seven million college students, Walda reminded.) 

2. The growing public perception of higher education not being worth the cost. This sentiment has come and gone over decades, but it persists today at a time when the country needs a skilled and educated workforce more than ever, Walda noted. NACUBO’s federal affairs team remains highly engaged on Capitol Hill and has launched a robust Value of Higher Education project focused on telling a national story—and helping individual institutions tell their stories—of the transformative impacts of higher learning to the lives of students and to the strength of communities. 

3. The rapidly changing business models in higher education. For many institutions, years of declining financial support coupled with enrollment declines are requiring revision to traditional funding and operational models. NACUBO’s Economic Models Project, launched in 2015, will continue to assist members with expertise and resources to tackle their internal strategic deliberations, Walda said. 

4. The increasing importance of sustainability and efficiency to education and operations. The need to prepare students for future jobs focused on finite planetary resources and a changing climate, and the need to further enhance the operational efficiency of campus facilities and central plants has increased during the past decade, Walda said. NACUBO’s creation of a sustainability advisory panel to help lead that focus on stewardship and energy efficiency concerns will continue through data collection and sharing of best practices. 

5. The need to cultivate the next generation of chief business officers. In 2010, NACUBO published its inaugural National Profile of Higher Education Chief Business Officers to better understand the current demographic makeup of and pipeline challenges for the profession. A fourth survey will soon be underway to continue efforts for enhancing career proficiency and identifying advancement opportunities. This annual meeting also kicked off the third cohort of participants in the NACUBO Fellows Program to advance technical and leadership training for those whose next step is to serve as CBO, Walda said. This program adds to the success of popular annual programming for new business officers and future business officers. A “new to higher education” focus has likewise been added to NACUBO programming, along with more mentoring opportunities and an increased focus on women’s leadership to ensure a robust and inclusive CBO pool of expertise for the long term. 

Gavel Turnover

Each annual meeting likewise brings a turn in leadership for NACUBO’s board chair. This year, the gavel exchanged hands from outgoing chair Mary Lou Merkt, vice president, finance and administration, Furman University, to incoming chair Lynne Schaefer, vice president, administration and finance, University of Maryland Baltimore County. 

For Merkt, her year of service was marked in part by the search process for NACUBO’s next President and CEO, Susan Whealler Johnston, the association’s first female CEO. Among Schaefer’s other duties as board chair, it will now be part of her role to assist in a smooth transition for Whealler, a responsibility Schaefer said she relishes. Schaefer noted that NACUBO’s strategic blueprint will guide the association’s work for the year ahead and beyond—“a blueprint designed to address the real challenges for chief business officers and their campuses. When I think about our network of colleagues, I know we are all committed to making our institutions stronger and leaving them better than we found them. At the same time, new challenges will require us to stay strong as a community.” 

Parting Thoughts

In thanking Walda for his long service to NACUBO, Merkt likewise reflected on the pace of change during his tenure. In the summer of 2006 when Walda started, no one had a smartphone, and the Dow was at 12,000 and steadily climbing. “Little did any of us know what would transpire in those intervening years in terms of technology, the economy, and the higher education environment,” Merkt said. 

In addition to the strong focus Walda brought to his role through advocacy efforts that, according to Merkt, “helped put NACUBO’s membership on the map for those in Washington, D.C.,” his commitment to emphasizing the importance of higher education to local communities has been underscored by a new tradition that began under his leadership, Merkt said. The first community service project held in conjunction with NACUBO’s 2007 annual meeting in New Orleans invited attendees to help with rebuilding efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That tradition has continued. For this year’s pre-meeting service event in Long Beach, 70 members participated in helping construct a greenhouse and garden center for Beach High School, giving a little something back to the host community. 

And so, the journey continues with the NACUBO 2019 Annual Meeting next year in Austin, Texas, with new leadership and new challenges, yet with a constant focus on what continues to ground higher education in its core values of improving individual lives, communities, and society at large with greater opportunities and understanding.




NACUBO’s Economic Models Project will continue to assist members with expertise and resources to tackle their internal strategic deliberations.