For organizational leaders, financial concerns are at the forefront of most operational choices, performance analysis, and forecasting models. Sound financial management is key to long-term organizational success, and financial mismanagement can have disastrous consequences for small businesses, large-scale enterprises, and universities alike. The health of the national and global economies, regulatory changes, shifting consumer habits, and the availability of skilled labor can all impact an organization’s efforts to remain a thriving enterprise. For institutions such as LSUS, state budget allocations also play a major role in financial health.
When I came back to LSUS as Chancellor in 2014, the university was faced with a daunting financial outlook. We were struggling to maintain normal operations with a fraction of the annual budget that had been allocated years earlier. To maintain the integrity of our academic standards, we had to tighten our belts in other areas. We diverted resources away from our facilities, slowed hiring, and struggled to offer wage increases to keep pace with the natural rise in the cost of living. It was a difficult time, but there was a ray of hope offered by the decision to enter the online education space made by my predecessor, Interim Chancellor Dr. Paul Sisson.
This decision proved to be one of the most impactful in the history of the university, as LSUS rose in the national and worldwide ranks of universities offering online programs. It didn’t happen overnight, and it required strong leadership within our academic ranks to first pivot and then thrive. The success of our online programs helped us reinvest in our campus infrastructure, in our faculty and staff, and in special projects such as the acquisition of our campus housing, Pilots Pointe Apartments. The financial side of this reinvestment has been overseen by our Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs, Barbie Cannon, whose steady hand has given me the ability to make choices for enhancing the LSUS campus and brand as we continue to attract and retain a new generation of students both on our campus and online.
Of course, the pandemic has thrown a major wrench in the works, the impact of which will reveal itself in time, particularly as it relates to enrollment numbers across the state. It has served as a stern reminder that even when things within your control are going well, there are challenges–small, large, and global–that can change things overnight. However, as I stated in earlier columns, the decision to enter the online space years ago actually helped us weather the storm of COVID-19, leveraging our technological expertise to augment our campus operations beginning in the spring of 2020.
So, I ask you to consider the following questions: Are there new and untapped markets that you may not have considered for your organization? How equipped are you financially to pivot to these markets, particularly in a time of global uncertainty with possible future pandemics, supply chain issues, labor shortages, and technological changes? Can you realistically forecast the potential return on investment of venturing into these markets? Perhaps these markets can be lucrative enough to provide additional revenue streams (or expertise) to help weather future storms, or perhaps they’re not viable, now or in the future. At any rate, it’s good practice for us as leaders to periodically consider these matters, no matter our line of business. Recently we’ve seen the way whole industries have adapted and evolved during the pandemic, and I’m certain that this will continue well after we are out of the proverbial woods. These are complicated issues, with variables both apparent and unknown. I wish you all well as we continue to navigate these challenging times together.
Dr. Larry Clark | Chancellor, Louisiana State University at Shreveport