WVU one of many higher education institutions navigating choppy financial waters

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Members of the audit firm CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA) recently spoke to the West Virginia University (WVU) Board of Governors (BOG) about the financial headwinds facing higher education and provided some tips.

CLA Managing Principal of Industry, Don Loberg, started his presentation with a troubling preference for higher education. Loberg said there are many institutions that won’t have the available time or resources to make the market adjustments needed to remain viable.

“In the last seven years, we’ve lost about 100 institutions—closed, merged, or whatever the case may be,” Loberg said. “I predict that in the next few years we’re going to have 200 to 300 more close.”

CLA Principal Chris Knopik explained to the board that public opinion is spiraling downward, making their recruiting efforts much more difficult. The dismal public opinion numbers appear to be a “force to be reckoned with” rather than a temporary trend.

“Of those polled, 85 to 90 percent said it’s awesome; we love higher education,” Knopik said. “The most recent poll completed by Gallop in the last year has dropped that positive perception to 35 percent.”

Loberg said working with students from across the country in higher education and watching news shows the challenges are very similar for other institutions. Each institution has had to analyze their priorities and resources to determine the proper pace and level of financial and operational reform.

“I see what you’re in the papers for, and it’s identical to what’s happening across the country,” Loberg said. “Everybody across the country is trying to find the right answer to fix their revenue or expense problems.”

The number of available high school seniors falls each year, and the fierce competition for those potential students increases each year, making moving forward a formidable challenge. The available pool of high school seniors is expected to continue falling for the next decade.

“The anxiety the finance department or the BOG is going through at WVU, I can’t imagine, because you’re trying to solve an extremely difficult Rubik’s cube,” Loberg said.

Finding new revenue sources, cutting costs, and continuing to engage with alumni to develop new, unique ways to involve them are needed moving into the future. Loberg said there are opportunities to grow revenue while creating ways to expand the WVU brand.

“There are a lot of baby boomers and a lot of people of wealth who are retired and thinking about where they want to leave their legacy,” Loberg said. “Those dollars are out there, and WVU should be involved in getting some of those gifts and gaining some of that revenue.”