Fiscal literacy for department chairs


Fiscal literacy for department chairs

March 01, 2022

Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship logo

Joe Lewandowski

Director of Resource Planning, University of Buffalo

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

At our institution, we have a fairly robust budget and resource planning process at the central level. This is where university senior leadership engages with decanal and vice presidential leadership of units across campus. Annually, strategic priorities are communicated and plans to move them forward are discussed, financial health of the units is reviewed along with enrollment, research and other areas of priority for individual units.

However, as you drill down into the institution there are varying levels of integrated budget and resource planning done at the department level. While management of financial resources is one of their top responsibilities, often department chairs who are charged with stewardship of a significant portion of the university’s resources are provided the least amount of training to do so.

Nationally, most chairs when appointed receive no formal training. Those who do receive training often find it inadequate. At our institution, through our vice provost for faculty affairs, we offer a two-hour financial session for new department chairs with the central resource planning and business services offices. In decanal units, financial training (if any is provided) varies.

Interested in the Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship?

Learn more about the program and future cohorts.

So how do we provide more comprehensive financial training to academic department chairs? I have outlined the following three actions to help achieve stronger fiscal literacy for department chairs at our institution. The goal is to position department chairs to better understand their budgets, provide stronger financial stewardship and help achieve their department’s and the university’s strategic goals.

  • The office of resource planning, in partnership with university business services, is working to build out a business and finance curriculum for department chairs to help them further understand university finance and better provide them with the tools to succeed. Sessions will focus on the university’s budget model, budgeting best practices and how to best utilize the different sources of funding and financial tools available in their departments.
  • Central offices providing training isn’t enough. A second phase to expand financial training will involve working with the unit business officers in each of the decanal areas. Collaboration with the units will be critical for department chairs to understand how university fiscal policy and models are then implemented in their specific decanal units.
  • Resource planning will also collaborate with the vice provost for academic affairs to better integrate a financial perspective into the university’s comprehensive academic program review process. There will be an initial focus on credit hours taught, tuition revenue generated and faculty salaries within the programs, leading to a high level of understanding of how each program impacts the department from a fiscal point of view.

This strategy has been developed by my own experiences and collaboration from many in academic affairs and finance and administration at the University at Buffalo as well as the many resources provided by EAB. My cohort partner Cynthia Lester, the Senior Associate Dean, Academic Affairs at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College, was also extremely helpful providing insight from both the academic perspective and a different university’s point of view. I look forward to implementing these strategies.

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Joe Lewandowski and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in fall 2021

EAB asks you to accept cookies for authorization purposes, as well as to track usage data and for marketing purposes. To get more information about these cookies and the processing of your personal information, please see our Privacy Policy. Do you accept these cookies and the processing of your personal information involved?