November 7, 2017 | Higher Education

    EACUBO 2017 - Bridging Challenge and Opportunity

    Hi everyone! My colleague Peter Stafsudd and I recently had the pleasure of attending the Eastern Association of College and University Business Officers (EACUBO) conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, PA. EACUBO is a regional associate of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and consists of financial and administrative leaders who are given the large task of working behind the scenes in support of the institution's academic mission. The twice-a-year conference gives them a chance to join with their regional counterparts in professional development, networking, and the sharing of learned experience.

    For most of my career, I’ve have been on the academic-research side of higher education, and now as a representative of HelioCampus, I was given the opportunity to see the amazing value that business officers bring to their institutions. I believe strongly that all roles of higher education are rooted in the academic success of the students. After spending three days with this group of people I have no doubt that they feel the same way. Even with their specific lens-of-focus on the business aspects of the institution, the student’s success was always first and foremost in their interactions. There was a contagious energy that made the conference feel like it came and went in a blink. Once home, I had a chance to reflect on the experience and thought it would be fun to briefly share with you two topics that made me step back and think, “that is interesting and of course someone needs to handle that.” I won’t go into much detail but hopefully this will be a jumping off point for further research.

    Most of us can remember the visits we made during our process of deciding on a school. Picture for Rob Blog.pngWe would start with reading all the important information available and then decide which school was worth a visit. Your list may have formed based on enrollment, the athletic conference, school history, available major, or even friends currently attending. I know mine was because of a few of those. Parents and students often say that finding a handful of schools that align with your goals is the most difficult part of the process, but the real decisions aren’t usually made until after the on-campus visit. Visitors are often paired with experienced upperclassman who spend the day highlighting the different parts of campus and services. Although academics is often seen as the primary decision point for a university, it can’t be ignored that many will spend the next four years calling campus our home.

    Hills or flat? Snow or Sun? Wireless only in the dorms or throughout campus? The idea of what makes a place a home is relative to each of us, but regardless of which campus ultimately becomes our second home, it’s someone’s job to maintain those buildings, systems, and grounds for us to enjoy. The development, maintenance, and management of these vital resources was something I never really considered as a student, and perhaps that’s by design. These are typically the resources we tend to take as givens and only notice when the grass isn’t mowed, the roof is leaking, or the wireless goes out right before that big paper is due. Over the last twenty-five years, schools have also learned how to fold technology into their investments. From cable and phone hookups in the dorms in the late 90’s to broadband and campus-wide wireless access today, the complete infrastructure of an institution is a vital part of experience and because of the business officers working to anticipate needs, happily goes without recognition day-to-day.

    A cousin to infrastructure is the ability to feed the student body three times a day. Mostly gone are the days where meals are bland and repetitive. Institutions are beginning to see dining services as a competitive advantage in attracting students and, as such, have begun to offer healthier and more flavorful foods. One of the trends that caught my eye during the conference was the focus on locally-sourced options for dining services. I could have never imagined considering the where behind my food while I was going through school. We walked in wondering if the food was going to be edible, let alone local, and spent the rest of the day deciding whether we should chance it again or spend what little we had eating out but either that day or the next, we always found ourselves congregating in the dining hall sharing the stories of campus.

    That said, the ability to manage these new approaches to dining services isn’t without a trade-off. While I was discussing the idea of this blog post with a colleague he recommended I check out the podcast Revisionist History from the outstanding author and thinker Malcolm Gladwell. Episode 5: Food Fight, is an interesting take on how food service is a differentiator between the seemingly similar Bowdoin College and Vassar, with Bowdoin having an much-elevated dining experience. Being Gladwell, he provides a really unique turn that outlines the potential downside to the recent rise in higher quality food service - the opportunity cost to the institutions. At the compared Vassar, they rely on the more traditional food service in a deliberate effort to afford to educate those who, a decade ago, would have never been able to consider the high sticker-price of the liberal arts school. Both schools, and the countless others nearer to the mean, rightly prioritize their budgets based in their administrations institutional vision and strategy. The constant in every meeting, providing the hard-truths throughout the process, are those business officers.  

    The conference goers at EACUBO helped me understand the constant hard work and long-term planning that goes into their projects, and what it takes to keep each of these items out of our daily concern. Admittedly, I’ve only touched on a small part of what encompasses the work of a business officer (see university advancement for another huge topic). Our institutions are investing into decades-long projects in a world that continues to create new and novel considerations while still balancing the day-to-day mission of educating and enlightening students.  This wonderful  experience showed me that there was a group of people that should be constantly applauded alongside the professors but intentionally go about their business under the radar.

    Thank you all for what you do.

    Rob Mitchell
    Data Scientist, HelioCampus

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