Chief Business Officer Confidence Continues to Slide

July 21, 2018 - by Holden Thorp

In Our Higher Calling, we talk a lot about the great surveys done by Inside Higher Ed of both chief executive officers (Presidents and Chancellors) and the chief business officers (someone who has a title like Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance).  We pinpointed a couple of trends:  first, that folks in both surveys were likely to say that higher education was unsustainable but that their institution was ok; second, that the level of confidence was eroding over time.

The most recent chief business officer survey shows further erosion of confidence.  Now just 44 percent of chief business officers at four-year undergraduate colleges say that their institution is OK financially (down from 52 percent).  Also, only 80 percent of all chief business officers say trustees and other senior officers are realistic about the financial future of their school.

Stunningly, one in six say that their institution has discussed a merger with another college.  Even more striking, 68 percent of undergraduate college CBOs say that their discount rate (i.e., the real amount of tuition that they collect) is unsustainable.

Last year, I had the chance to speak at the installation of my good friend, Tim Cloyd, who is now president of Drury University.  During his address, he said something stunningly courageous:  Drury does not have a single full-pay student.  Most of Drury stakeholders who weren’t at that talk probably believe many of the students are paying the sticker price.

This all points to why we have a crisis of understanding in getting campus constituents to understand what is going on.

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