News | Michael Urch
Given Bethel’s financial crisis, managing the university’s budget has grown increasingly complex.
Next year’s budget has 3,500 lines, which means Bethel will allocate money to 3,500 different places. In the past few years, there have been over 7,000 different lines in the budget. To put that into perspective, there are approximately 600 words in this article.
“We focus on both what are the sources of revenue . . . [and] what are the needs and expenses,” financial controller Bruce Wheeler said.
The challenge of the budgeters is to use predictions about revenue, largely predicted through enrollment, to decide where to allocate funds. A separate group makes the enrollment prediction. Enrollment data is compared to high school graduation data from as far back as the 1970s, allowing a future prediction to be made from past performance.
Every dollar of revenue has to be tied to a line in the budget. Prioritizing items for resource allocation is important in an institution like Bethel.
According to Wheeler, the vice president of finance and the controller have been responsible for the budget in the past. This year is different; more people are overseeing the budget.
“The process itself is very much the same, there are just more people involved,” said Wheeler.
Nine people have been spending 90 minutes per week collaborating to form the budget. Executive Assistant to the President, Randy Bergen, leads a committee comprising three administrators, two controllers that maintain financial and accounting records, two CAS faculty members, one CAPS/GS faculty member and one seminary faculty member.
“[This change] was driven by a desire of the administration to be open and very obviously collaborative,” Bergen said.
“I think that the process is better because more eyes are looking upon it,” said professor Chuck Hannema, CAS representative and committee member. “The process is much improved. It has validity and integrity. Faculty should be confident that the process is a good process.”
According to Hannema, the committee has been spending a great deal of time delving into the foundational assumptions behind budgets. The committee is focusing on how they make decisions.
The largest change is the inclusion of faculty members in the budget formation. In the past, faculty members were not as informed about the rationale behind decision making. Now each school has faculty representation at the budgeting table.
“We want . . . a faculty voice to help shape what we do, because education is at the heart of what we do at Bethel,” Bergen said. “Including faculty just makes sense.”
The budgeting committee focuses on wisely allocating the resources that Bethel receives. It makes decisions of increasing importance during a present time of scarce resources. Yet, greater questions are also being asked regarding the growth in revenue.
“It is going to be a challenge to have the revenue that we need to support the kind of growth that we want to have,” Hannema said. “I think that the worst is behind us, but I think that how traditional CAS students perceive a four-year education is critical.”