Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

No-Brainer or Brain-Twister? Linking Planning and Budgeting

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

No-Brainer or Brain-Twister? Linking Planning and Budgeting

Article excerpt

While there is no one right way to link planning and budgeting, there is good practice: what works to influence behavior in the direction of institutional goals, supported by strong leadership.

"The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of
our values and aspirations."--Jacob J. Lew (2011, [paragraph] 1),
director of the White House Office of Management and Budget

What is true of government budgets is equally true for colleges and universities: if you want to know what an institution values, look where it puts its resources.

Our institutions may produce inspiring vision statements, strategic plans, academic plans, enrollment plans, master plans, and plans to plan... but if such texts do not line up with how resources are actually allocated, they are mere exhortations or documents on a shelf. One point of view would be that a plan is toothless unless it changes the focus of those in the institution regarding the use and prioritization of resources. I would go further: if a plan and the budget are not integrated, then the budget, by default, is the institution's real plan.

This article looks at planning and budgeting in higher education: it examines how the two are linked conceptually and reviews a range of practices used by different institutions. What follows is based on published studies and cases, my six years of experience as provost at a Canadian university, and interactive workshops conducted at the Society for College and University Planning's (SCUP) annual conference in connection with which my colleagues and I surveyed the workshop participants. For the most part this article considers strategic planning and operational budgeting at the institutional level, but some of the insights may well apply to other contexts.

I hope to persuade you that planning and budgeting ought to be linked--this may seem like a "no-brainer" to some.

At the same time, I don't want to shy away from how hard it is to do. In many institutions, planning and budgeting are large, separate, cumbersome processes with different key stakeholders, often supported by different administrative offices, not necessarily with the same cycles and timelines. To link the two sounds easier than it is. Many institutions take decades to develop effective ways of doing so, and these cannot usually be copied wholesale from one college to another. In every case they depend critically on leadership. How to link planning and budgeting--that's the "braintwister."


It helps to think briefly about what we mean by planning and budgeting. A plan is a statement of intention about future actions. It is not simply a forecast. A plan's purpose is to guide action--to cause, following its release, particular things to be done and goals to be achieved in a certain timeframe. And because planning is about causing action, behavioral change, and results, it is "not just about the outcome of producing various planning documents; it is about the process of engaging stakeholders and building buy-in for the institution's vision and academic priorities" (Stack and Leitch 2011, p. 21).

Plans have proliferated in higher education and now cover various levels, functions, portfolios, units, risks, and timescales. Many institutions have a matrix of overlapping plans. The concept of integrated planning, advocated distinctively by SCUP, is an effort to bring order to the "lack of coherence" that has characterized the efforts of physical campus planners, academic planners, and financial planners formerly working in isolation (Brodnick and Norris 2016, p. 28). SCUP says, "integrated planning is a sustainable approach to planning that builds relationships, aligns the organization, and emphasizes preparedness for change" (Society for College and University Planning, n.d., [paragraph] 1).

The hardest part of planning is setting priorities and sticking to them: "Integrated planning is the process whereby all planning and budgeting activities throughout every level of the organization are effectively linked, coordinated, and driven by the institution's vision, mission, and academic priorities" (Stack and Leitch 2011, p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.