Data: The Second Layer

Dr. Carol Moore
Interim President
Columbia College (Columbia, South Carolina)
September 2016 – June 2020



[Editor’s note: This “Blindside” series aims to inform readers about the challenges interim administrators are likely to encounter, and strategies on ways to avoid being blindsided in your interim assignment.]

You have been offered the position – President, Vice President, Provost. You are excited for a new challenge. The institution has provided you with a stack of information in preparation for the interview process. You have studied documents such as the budget, enrollment, audit, strategic plan and other reports. Now that you have secured the position and want a deeper look, what is the second tier of data that will quickly get you on top of the issues? 

  • What you really need is a weekly cash flow – both for the previous year and going forward. While a projected budget is useful for mid-level managers, it is useless for managing institutional finances. 
  • As with most higher education institutions, the largest portion of the expenses is people. It is likely that some areas are over-staffed. Ask for the last academic program reviews for low enrolled programs. Request a 5-year enrollment/retention/graduation report by major. Then look at a faculty productivity report. These two documents together will be revealing. Digging deeper, ask for a report on the DFW rates in every course. This will reveal curricular barriers.
  • In the area of administration, review all external contracts. For example, how much has the College spent on legal or consulting fees? Are facilities outsourced? To whom and at what cost? Review the deferred maintenance needs. What is the budget for deferred maintenance?  
  • In the Student Affairs area, seek a report on the residence halls capacity and occupancy. What amenities are available to students and what is the utilization? Residence Hall occupancy during breaks will provide valuable information on the profile of students.

Finally, a routine walk-through of every building will reveal key aspects of institutional culture, e.g., are faculty office hours posted? Are office doors open or closed?  Also, be sure to read the information on bulletin boards. These and many more subtle cues will shed light on the institutional environment and direct you to the root causes of any issues that may need to be addressed.

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