February 2003 Issue
Management Strategies & Tips
By Jan Norton
From what I can glean from the barrage of bad economic news, education is not in
for an easy ride any time soon. Most of the learning center managers I know have
already had to deal with budget cuts -- sometimes very severe cuts. Perhaps you
are lucky enough to have plenty of advance warning about budget changes, but
many of us arenít.
If you do not always get plenty of planning time, one of your professional new
yearís resolutions should be to inventory what you have: budget, personnel,
computers and other educational resources, space, etc. Be as specific as you can
without dragging out the process into something painful and distracting.
Once you have a firm grasp on what is, start to think about what could be so
that you are ready for whatever turn the budget takes. If you are facing a cut,
knowing what you want might help you think of other funding sources for that
specific amount of money or type of expenditure. For example, your collegeís
student government might not want to give you some money for a new computer, but
perhaps it would feel good about providing you the funds you need to prepare and
present a new set of workshops about taking the GRE (which then frees up your
GRE funds for a computer). If you think you may lose part of your operating
budget, do you have an idea about what can go first? Is there anything you could
do now to make that cut less painful?
Budget changes arenít always cuts. If a bit of new money Ė or maybe even the
return of some that was taken from you earlier Ė suddenly becomes available, do
you know what you will do with it? Do you have cost estimates and justifications
ready or at least in mind? If your planned giving or Foundation office calls
with the news that an anonymous donor is willing to provide several thousand
dollars for computers and software, are you ready to accept? Keep in mind that
new money can provide a new direction, and that money replacing an earlier cut
does not necessarily have to replace what was previously cut.
Obviously you canít spend a lot of time and energy on planning for every
contingency: youíd go crazy, or drive your staff there first. But you also canít
sit back and be constantly taken by surprise. The week that you are given to
make a key budget decision might be a week that you could dedicate to that task,
but it might also be a week with its own crushing load of things that need to be
done. Having at least a general sense of whatís next to go or first to replace
can help you when the decision becomes necessary and can also help you plan the
day-to-day operations of your learning center.
There may be more cuts to come, but there are surely also better days ahead. The
trick is to be ready for both possibilities.
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