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February 2003 Issue

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Management Strategies & Tips

By Jan Norton

Email: norton@mwsc.edu

Budget Awareness

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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