College CFOs are “overwhelmingly positive” about the stability of their schools


If you’re willing to step outside the doom and gloom of the recurring cycle of higher education coverage and conventional thinking, there’s actually some good news out there about the state and stability of colleges and universities.

No really.

In addition to the recent news that university applications may be on the rise, there is more news about the promising prospects of higher education. This good news comes in the form of a survey of chief finance officers at colleges and universities – the people with a nose for the numbers.

The latest update to the recurring survey was released earlier this month and shows the broad and growing confidence that CFOs have in the financial health and stability of their institutions.

In the press release announcing the results, Syntellis, the study’s sponsor, said: “U.S. higher education leaders remain overwhelmingly positive about the financial health of their institutions now and for the foreseeable future, with 89% of the financial professionals of colleges and universities have confidence in their institutions will be financially stable for the next five years, up from 72% in 2021.”

Overwhelmingly positive is not a phrase any of us have heard in higher education lately.

That 89% of college CFOs are “confident that their institution will be financially stable” should send a pretty strong signal. That the share of those expressing this confidence has increased should also steer one. The percentage of higher education CFOs who said they agree or strongly agree with the financial stability of their schools was 62% in 2020, then 72% in 2021 and 89% this year.

The signal is quite loud. It is an open question whether someone is listening. It doesn’t look like it.

On the contrary, it seems that we have already decided what the fate of our colleges and universities will be. So we stopped paying attention. Some of us did anyway.

Of course, these survey results do not bode well – the pressure is real and diverse. The expected drop in enrollment and labor costs are the most significant of these.

Still, it’s great news that in the face of these and other challenges, the people who keep the books are optimistic. The report says, “Widespread optimism prevails toward 2023.” According to the survey, only 2% of college and university CFOs strongly disagreed that their schools would remain stable over the next five to 10 years.

Unsurprisingly, the report also said, “Confidence was highest among finance professionals at four-year public colleges and universities, where 98% agreed or strongly agreed that their institutions would be financially stable over the next 10 years , compared to 86% in a four-year course. non-profit private institutions.”

That public school CFOs are almost unanimously confident should come as no surprise. That 86% of CFOs at not-for-profit private schools think their schools will be stable for the next several years is true. Probably not for everyone. But it is these non-profit private schools that have been in the university’s crosshairs for years, with many people predicting an industry-wide collapse at any moment. Based on this, those people might have to wait a bit longer.

Further, the survey found that “most respondents said their institutions are well equipped to respond to industry volatility.”

It’s just hard to see these feelings as anything other than great news. And again, these aren’t pundits or journalists or edtech vendors saying these things – these are the CFOs at colleges and universities. As for the issue of future financial stability, these are the people who know.

As colleges continue to defy the odds, as well as the predictions of their failures and futility, their fortunes will do little but rise. Like the CFOs, a significant portion of the general public knows the real and long-term value a college education provides – that college graduates are more likely to be employed and earn significantly more money than non-graduates. That hasn’t changed. It’s hard to keep such a value proposition low for too long.

And that’s just counting the money, which explains very little of what a university actually is. In a slightly broader view, we all need – and should want – for our colleges to be stable at the very least. We should want vibrancy and growth.

In that broader perspective, there is good news about the university, about higher education. It’s not even that hard to find if you’re willing to look.



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