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Articles: Financial Services

American higher education in 2016 faced increased pressure on performance. Colleges and universities were also being pushed to eliminate administrative and academic silos to help students of all ages and backgrounds succeed. Here’s a look back at what made headlines in higher ed this past year and how campuses responded.

Keeping student tuition and fees down is the top priority for 2017 selected by campus CFOs and other finance department administrators in a UB survey—yet tuition revenue and nontuition student fees are the biggest anticipated funding categories for the coming year.

COLLEGE SERVICES--Susan Brennan is associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University. Kara J. Della Croce is director of campus recruiting at Ernst & Young LLP.

Colleges and universities must face a harsh reality: Employer expectations of their graduates are changing. It’s not enough for candidates to have the professional or technical skills needed for a particular job. Hiring managers now want employees with the ability to apply both hard and soft skills to their role.

Sarah Bassler Millar and Richard Pearl, of Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP, advise higher ed leaders that fiduciaries should be trained by outside counsel with expertise in ERISA retirement plans.

Recently, plaintiffs’ attorneys have brought dozens of lawsuits against universities alleging that their retirement plan fiduciaries breached their duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). A failure to fulfill fiduciary duties under ERISA can lead to serious consequences, including personal liability under ERISA. There are steps fiduciaries can take to discharge their responsibilities and avoid these harsh results. 

Enrollment declines will be the most pressing concern keeping presidents and other top officials up at night in 2017. Seven in 10 who responded to a UB survey named it as the area with the greatest potential for causing the institution financial or reputational harm. State budget cuts, at 44 percent, are the next biggest worry for the 66 responding presidents, provosts and chancellors. 

Public funding levels and the various approaches to affordability—from debt-free college to private-sector loans—will continue to dominate higher ed debates in and outside campus administrative offices.

A greater level of accountability around access and outcomes looms on the horizon for higher ed administrators in 2017 and beyond. Experts across the ideological spectrum predict the federal government and the general public to demand more transparency in the data released about how graduates of specific campus programs fare in the job market. 

Scott A. Bass is the provost at American University in Washington, D.C.

How many databases does your campus administer in the broad area of student support? American University uses more than 36 databases for different student-related administrative and learning management functions—yet, there is little to no integration.

After years of working with multiple food service vendors and local restaurants, Carnegie Mellon University brought fast-casual bakery chain Au Bon Pain to campus. The school’s first experience with a national restaurant franchise, it was a 12-month process from the brainstorming phase to opening the doors to hungry students.

Recent regulations from the Department of Education improve protection for student borrowers targeted by misleading or predatory practices, and establish a clear path for loan forgiveness in instances of institutional fraud or misconduct—an issue financial aid experts say will impact both for-profits and nonprofits.

Nirmal P. Narvekar, now at Harvard, was previously CEO of Columbia University’s $9.6 billion endowment, which returned an average 10.1 percent during his leadership.

Nirmal P. Narvekar is the new president and CEO of Harvard’s $35.7 billion endowment, the largest fund in higher ed.

Narvekar, a former JPMorgan Chase & Co. derivatives trader, was also previously CEO of Columbia University’s $9.6 billion fund, which returned an average 10.1 percent during his leadership from 2005 to 2015. At Harvard, he is expecting to improve fund performance and reorganize staff at Harvard Management Co., which oversees the endowment.

Technology can be a powerful resource for behavioral health care. It grants a level of comfort and anonymity to those who have questions or concerns about their mental health, making it easier to reach people who otherwise might not seek help.

Higher ed has become the latest target of retirement plan fee litigation. One firm in particular has filed class-action suits against dozens of universities, alleging breaches of ERISA fiduciary duties.

The tactic has been used for years in business, says Eric Paley of legal consultants Nixon Peabody.

Steve Mims’ new film, "Starving the Beast," documents a political and philosophical shift that seeks to reframe public higher education.

Steve Mims’ new film, "Starving the Beast," documents a political and philosophical shift that seeks to reframe public higher education—not as a public good for society, but as a “value proposition” to be borne by those pursuing a college degree.

Ken Artin, is a public finance lawyer at Bryant Miller Olive. He can be reached at kartin@bmolaw.com.

There is a great need for infrastructure such as classrooms, student housing, dining and wellness facilities. Public-private partnerships (P3s) are a form of contracting between the public sector and private industry that capitalizes on the potential for private investment in a project, while sharing risk between the public and private partners.

Betsy Mennell, Northern Arizona University’s development vice president, learned the hard way that “in fundraising, if you speak the language you can talk the talk, but you may not be able to walk the walk.”

After being burned a few times hiring the wrong people—“disorganized, not self-disciplined, afraid to ask for money”—she now requires candidates to tackle four tasks that every MGO must handle.

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