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Managing Tight Budgets

Tomorrow's Academy

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In this article we offer strategies that chairs can employ to successfully meet department revenue needs with tight budgets. The strategies presented are those that are likely to have value for the greatest number of chairs across a full range of institution types in this very difficult economy.







The posting below gives some useful pointers on what department chairs can do to manage their budgets in this difficult times..  It is by Mary Lou Higgerson, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Baldwin-Wallace College and coauthor of Effective Leadership Communication (Anker, 2007) and Barry McCauliff, professor and former chair of communication at Clarion University. Email:, The article appeared in The Department Chair: A Resource for Academic Administrators, Summer, 2009, Vol. 20, No. 1., pp 1-3. For further information on how to subscribe, as well as pricing and discount information, please contact, Sandy Quade, Account Manager, John Wiley & Sons, Phone: (203) 643-8066 ( or see:





Rick Reis

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Tomorrow's Academia 

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Managing Tight Budgets


As institutions of higher education face the challenge of managing in a recession,it is important for chairs to

proactively employ measures that make optimal use of department time and money and consider new ways of

securing additional resources for the department.


Making more optimal use of the available budget and securing resources for the department may seem like an

impossible task at a time when many institutions are freezing positions, reducing salaries, enforcing mandatory furloughs, and exercising other measures to shore up institutional finances in the face of devalued endowments and lost revenue. While the specific strategies that work best will vary with the institution, chairs are not powerless.The most effective strategies for an individual chair will be determined, in large part, by what decisions are delegated to chairs on the campus. For example, department chairs who are

empowered to build course schedules have a means for achieving economies that can reduce faculty workloads and spare the money spent on overload teaching and/or adjunct faculty. In contrast,what does not work is relying on requests for additional funds at a time when the institution is managing campus-wide freezes in new positions, capital expenditures, and slash or salary increases.


In this article we offer strategies that chairs can employ to successfully meet department revenue needs with tight budgets. The strategies presented are those that are likely to have value for the greatest number of chairs across a full range of institution types in this very difficult economy.


Share a Position


When securing a new or replacement position is unlikely,consider proposing a joint appointment between two academic departments or between an academic department and some other entity on campus.For example,the need for additional faculty in foreign language might be combined with the need for additional faculty to teach courses in international business,international law,or intercultural communication.Or,a chair might propose a position shared with an academic support unit such as the writing lab,learning center,academic advisement,or career services.In some instances, chairs might consider a joint appointment shared by two institutions

in the same region.A shared appointment between neighboring institutions that,for example,share a 2-plus-2 or a 3-plus-2 articulation agreement could benefit student learning at both institutions.


Revise the Curriculum


When institutions are unable to replace departing faculty, the workload for remaining faculty increases. The department can help restore faculty workloads and sanity by reducing the number of courses offered. This might be done by reducing electives, rotating some courses under a special topics course offering, and/or repackaging the course content while eliminating units of study that have become less relevant. Generally, any effort to structure the curriculum to more efficiently lead students through the major (or minor) will spare both faculty time and department resources. Such changes are likely to have the added benefit of improving student scores on assessment measures and increasing retention and graduation rates- outcomes that will make any department more valuable to the institution.


Eliminate Unnecessary Work


Chairs do faculty a huge service when they help them know which tasks can be eliminated. The department can effectively reduce existing workloads by eliminating courses, programs, and initiatives that have outlived their usefulness.Unnecessary work may exist in such ongoing initiatives as assessment, newsletters, department meetings, and student organizations. For example, as the assessment of student learning be-

comes more integrated with instruction, it is not essential to assess every variable each year.Chairs can make the assessment of student learning more manageable for faculty by collecting targeted data that help to inform current decisions without producing lengthy reports that sit on a shelf until the next program review. Chairs should lead the faculty in a continuous review that considers the benefit derived from all expenditures of time and money.For example, if department resources are used to support a student organization,consider what percentage of the majors participate and whether the organization's activities benefit individual students and the department's efforts to increase retention. Similarly, the department should ask whether the money spent on student workers provides optimal benefit to the department. In sum, assess whether the

benefits received warrant the faculty time and department funds spent on the activity.Knowing the return on the investment of time and budget can be useful in deciding which tasks might be eliminated.


Form Partnerships


Chairs can form mutually beneficial partnerships with other departments and offices on campus as well as with off-campus agencies. Departments might,for example,form alliances that permit the sharing of faculty and staff, the co-funding of mutually beneficial initiatives, or the exchange of professional expertise. Departments in the social sciences might pool their resources to deliver a research methods course that serves all students majoring in the different social sciences disciplines.Cost sharing for equipment or

facilities that are not used daily can help stretch resources.When a professional conference is likely to draw faculty from different departments,it can be cost effective to register as a team from the institution as most conferences offer group and early-bird registration discounts. Such partnerships not only help to extend scarce resources, they help to accrue additional visibility for the work being done in the department. Departments can sometimes stretch tight budgets by trading expertise with other departments. For example, faculty in the computer science department may help design a web page for another department in return for assistance in designing a survey instrument for assessing student learning. Picking up tasks that align more closely with department expertise in return for work that would widen a department's skill set can save time and frustration.


Use Technology


Advances in technology make it possible to provide interactive experiences for students and faculty with professionals at other locations without leaving campus. Technology can also permit departments to teach more students in a single class section while providing differentiated instruction. Many departments have successfully incorporated smart classrooms as a way of delivering classroom instruction to a greater number of students. These technologically enhanced classrooms permit the integration of PowerPoint presentations, video and DVD feeds, document cameras, direct connection to Internet sites, and other such instructional tools. Newer technologies like Personal Response Systems can be used in large classes to increase the amount of interaction between students and faculty. With "clickers,"students are able to respond to Socratic questions posed by the instructor, and the instructor is able to monitor student responses to the con-

tent being presented-all during the lecture. Use of this technology permits faculty to tailor and even repeat lecture material being presented in response to student need and understanding.


Analyze Course Enrollment


Tracking course attrition can yield significant savings for the department. In particular,it is helpful to track the typical first-week drop rate for each course section and use this information to reduce the number of empty seats in each class. No matter the cap on a course, empty seats represent wasted resources. If the chair knows how many students typically drop a class during the first week, it becomes possible to prevent

any loss by adding that number of students above the cap. This can be done in a way that does not create extra work for faculty by telling students on the wait list to attend the class from day one so they can be added to the roster should space become available.




We hope these strategies stimulate further thinking about how you might use the decisions and responsi-

bilities assigned to you to manage tight department budgets during this time of serious economic challenge

for higher education. We encourage you to share your thoughts on this topic with other chairs, as we expect

this will be a pressing issue at both public and private institutions for some time.


This article is based on a presentation at the 26th annual Academic Chairpersons Conference, February 11-13, 2009, Orlando,Florida.