Washington State University has taken its next step toward long-term fiscal health and stability, a goal made all the more urgent by the need to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19.

The University Fiscal Health Advisory Committee – tasked by WSU President Kirk Schulz to look at ways to improve the university’s financial wellbeing – has compiled a list of recommendations in its final report issued last month.

“We took a look at WSU’s history of managing its finances in comparison to some of the best fiscal practices that exist in higher education,” Stacy Pearson, vice president for finance & administration, said. “The committee then evaluated how we could take the university’s strengths, its culture and spirit of cooperation across the system, and develop a better fiscal planning process utilizing the most robust and modern tools available.”

The complete report is available online.

WSU will next assemble an executive budget and planning committee charged with following through on these recommendations and working with the administration to prioritize actions most needed to respond to the uncertainty posed by COVID-19. This committee will be co-chaired by Stacy Pearson, vice president for finance and administration and our new provost, Elizabeth Chilton. The members of the committee will be announced at a later date.

“Our primary focus is on the delivery of an exceptional educational experience for our students, as well as supporting activities that support our high-quality academic programs,” Pearson said.

An event like the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of having a solid budget process to ensure vital university operations are not disrupted.

The recommendations for the University Fiscal Health Advisory Committee fall under four main targets:

  • Examine current budgetary practices and propose new budget models for the future
  • Propose revenue enhancements
  • Assess the cost structure for administrative operations across the entire WSU system and recommend strategies to increase efficiencies and decrease costs
  • Facilitate transparent and informative budget communications with the university community

With the establishment of WSU’s new strategic plan, university leaders must work to align the annual budget process with those stated goals if it hopes to achieve them, Pearson said.

The rollout of Workday and other new systems as part of the Modernization update is key to this effort. It will allow access to more robust data in real time, replacing outdated and cumbersome systems in human resources and finance.

Large public university systems like WSU receive a majority of their revenue from students enrolling in educational programs. Therefore, the university must look at ways to meet the needs of future students by investing in programs that suit their interests and equip them with the skills necessary to succeed as part of the modern workforce.

Among these efforts is the implementation of a model for professional programs that incentivizes enrollment growth and revenue sharing, which is in progress. WSU is also looking at ways to reduce its dependence on tuition revenues while simultaneously plotting to grow enrollment and reach students who traditionally don’t consider four-year universities a possibility.

To be more efficient, university leaders are looking for ways to maximize the multi-campus system by reducing overlap and better aligning existing roles and responsibilities with key goals.

While COVID-19 poses significant challenges for institutions of higher education, WSU will not compromise on quality, Pearson said. Leaders across the system are resolute in their commitment to providing students the best education possible, and will look at ways it can carry out its historic mission by taking steps to be more efficient as well as putting off costs that don’t directly contribute to student success.

WSU is thankful for the hard work and dedication of members of the University Fiscal Health Advisory Committee. Anyone wishing to offer feedback on the recommendations can do so by emailing vpfa@wsu.edu.