Budget leader would push for collaboration

The University is intensifying its search for a budget chief to build a new financial plan that will encourage schools to work together, after a yearlong hunt to fill the specialized position came up empty.

The provost’s office is exploring a move away from paying schools based on enrollment projections to instead create financial incentives for collaboration, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman said.

The current format uses a case-by-case system to divide the tuition dollars of students in cross-school programs, sometimes inciting turf wars between schools.

“We have this weird system that was designed to encourage people to increase enrollment every year, and at one time in our history, it probably made sense. But it doesn’t really do that today,” Maltzman said.

Under the current budget model, when a student enrolls in classes within one undergraduate college, the others do not receive any tuition dollars, Maltzman said – a structure that sometimes puts up walls between schools.

“You are a [Columbian College of Arts and Sciences] student. So if you take a class in a different school, it doesn’t really matter to the other school,” Maltzman said.

When schools want to offer joint-degree programs, like a master’s degree in federal contracting that will be offered by the GW School of Business and GW Law School this fall, the budget office decides how to split tuition on an individual basis.

Under a new budget chief, schools would be nudged to open classroom doors to students enrolled in other colleges, which might even push graduate schools to offer undergraduate classes. Because GW nears the District-imposed enrollment cap and now focuses on gaining tuition dollars from off-campus and online programs, enrollment gains are not the priority, Maltzman said. And for on-campus programs, the aim is improving quality, he added.

Provost Steven Lerman, who is overseeing the search for the first vice provost of budget and finance, said he hopes to fill the position this fall. It was created in summer 2011, and this summer Lerman hired a new search firm, Diversified Search Networks, which specializes in finding financial officers.

“I think the way to describe it is the set of people we wanted to attract, we couldn’t attract. And the people we could attract, we didn’t want. So we’re doing a reset on the search,” Lerman said.

All of GW’s undergraduate schools take money from a unified budget that rewards higher enrollment but forces schools to help fund central University offices, like human resources and accounting. Richer graduate schools, like the law school, the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the School of Public Health and Health Services, also contribute to the University’s total pool but use a closed budget model that requires them to foot the bill for their own operating costs and capital costs, like construction projects.

Maltzman said schools still need a push to step up collaboration.

“We all act according to our incentives. My mom used to pay me by the weed, and I worked much harder than if she paid me by the hour,” Maltzman said, referring to his childhood yardwork chores. “We want to make sure our budget model is aligned with the various goals of the University.”

The University has reviewed models of other schools, Lerman said. Boston University, a similar institution, moved to the kind of budget model six years ago that GW seems to be eyeing. Its “One BU” initiative more easily allows students to move from school to school without creating financial confusion.

The new budget officer would also come on board as the University puts in motion its 10-year strategic plan, which prioritizes interdisciplinary academics. The plan, set for release in October, could sketch out a model to admit students to the University as a whole – rather than specific colleges – to create greater mobility between academic fields.

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