Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way colleges and universities engage with students, but it also significantly impacted recruiting and retaining faculty and staff. As the job market becomes more competitive and more tenured faculty choose to leave the profession, higher education institutions must assess their commitment planning process to be confident in their ability to attract, hire, and retain faculty members while meeting their financial and strategic goals.
Below, we discuss six of the most common challenges in commitment planning — not only for faculty recruiting and retention but also for commitments made to interdisciplinary projects, research, and strategic initiatives — and how colleges and universities can address those issues.
#1 — Manual Tools to Record and Track Commitments
At many institutions, school leaders use manual tools to record commitments. For some, this could include a Microsoft Access database or an Excel spreadsheet — but others simply rely on emails to keep a record of commitments. This becomes incredibly challenging if the Dean or Provost retires or moves to another institution, quickly causing the previously known commitments to become confused or lost. Documenting the commitments in a tool that everyone agrees is the system of record alleviates confusion and helps to efficiently onboard a new Dean or Provost.
Deans and department leaders may be able to track the very basics of commitments with manual tools, but they generally encounter significant limitations. For example, changes made to commitments aren’t automatically reflected in the institution’s other systems, which could lead to budgeting errors and omissions.
In addition, most manual, legacy tools cannot standardize data inputs, so they provide no way to effectively track different commitment types and funding sources, and they don’t offer comprehensive reporting — if any reporting at all.
Solution: A technology solution designed specifically for commitment planning offers more advanced functionality than spreadsheets or simple databases, enabling institutions to automate the collection, evaluation, and tracking of funding agreements. Sophisticated commitment planning tools can also enable comprehensive reporting, so you can better understand how to allocate resources and incorporate financial agreements into your annual budget.
#2 — Little Insight into Commitments Over Time
Commitments come in many forms (e.g., base salary, research funding, relocation assistance, etc.), require multiple funding sources, and often stretch out over several years. While colleges and universities may have the ability to record the basics of each commitment (within a spreadsheet, for instance), they aren’t always able to effectively track that agreement over time within each impacted department. While the commitment may make financial sense today, how will it impact strategic plans and initiatives in a year — or five years?
Solution: An advanced commitment planning solution offers colleges and universities the visibility needed to see commitments throughout the lifecycle, including current and future financial impact. The most effective solutions also allow institutions to track by type of agreement and funding required, including salaries, capital, and space. This gives institutions a more comprehensive understanding of potential agreements and enables informed, data-driven decisions.
#3 — Tracking Inconsistencies and Inaccuracies
For some colleges and universities, there’s no defined process for commitment planning; rather, procedures vary widely by school or department. While some department leaders may input information in a spreadsheet, others may rely solely on email — and some may simply make verbal agreements that aren’t formally captured at all. That often leads to duplication of effort, tracking inconsistencies, and an overall inaccurate picture of commitments.
Solution: Higher education institutions must have a centralized repository for commitment planning. This ensures all departments follow a consistent process for data input, so all stakeholders can be confident that they are making informed decisions. In addition, a single, trusted source of information can give the central finance office visibility into commitments across the institution, so it can track total costs against the school budget and align spending with long-term strategic initiatives.
#4 — Lack of Transparency and Budget Integration
The higher education budget process is painful enough — but commitment planning adds another complex variable. By nature, commitments don’t conform to the same rigid schedule as an annual budget. The recruitment process can take months, and commitments themselves can span multiple years. Because of this, deans and department leaders may struggle to effectively incorporate commitment planning into the annual budget and capital plan.
Solution: When colleges and universities are able to better track commitments — over time and by category — they can more effectively consider how they fit into their budgets. An advanced commitment planning solution can enable institutions to view current and extended financial obligations at a glance, so they can better understand how those commitments should be incorporated into the annual budget process.
#5 — Slow, Burdensome Approval Processes
Because commitments can include funding from multiple sources, the approval process often involves approval requests from several different stakeholders. Especially with rudimentary tracking tools, like spreadsheets, this creates a slow and burdensome approval process.
And that becomes even more of a problem if the commitment is time-sensitive, such as when a faculty candidate has competing offers. If the various departments involved aren’t able to provide prompt approval — due to confusion over which spreadsheet is correct or the availability of the funds, for instance — the candidate may move on to another opportunity.
Solution: Especially in an increasingly competitive hiring environment, time is valuable. Colleges and universities should develop a standardized process to streamline reviews. With a process that includes auditable workflows and tracking, deans and department leaders can more effectively move approvals along and ensure timely decisions.
#6 — Insufficient Reporting
Spreadsheets may provide a rudimentary repository for information, but they don’t go much further than that, especially when it comes to extrapolating and analyzing data. This typically limits the ability of deans and department leaders to track the impact of commitments over time, see how commitments align with strategic plans, and visualize where commitments are in their lifecycle.
Solution: Advanced commitment planning solutions include robust reporting that allows higher education institutions to analyze and present information in a variety of ways, from line-by-line detail to high-level executive reports. Those reports should be available to everyone involved — at an appropriate level of detail based on job function — so all stakeholders have a holistic and accurate view of commitments across the institution.
As recruiting becomes more competitive and retaining faculty and staff becomes more challenging, higher education institutions must assess their commitment planning processes and tools. Axiom™ Commitment Planning automates the collection, evaluation, and tracking of financial agreements made across a college or university, bringing order and efficiency to a complex process.