Magazine article Government Finance Review

Budgeting for Excellence: How the University of Missouri-Kansas City Transformed Its Budget Process Using the NACSLB Standards

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Budgeting for Excellence: How the University of Missouri-Kansas City Transformed Its Budget Process Using the NACSLB Standards

Article excerpt

There comes a time in the life of any organization--be it a corporation, non-profit, university, or government--when culture change becomes the highest priority. Without it, the organization seems destined to become a hollow shell, far removed from the forces and needs that propelled it into existence in the first place.

Three years ago, the University of Missouri-Kansas City found itself at just such a crossroads. UMKC was suffering from the same problems plaguing many other urban universities, which were being eclipsed by prestigious private schools like the Ivies and a handful of amply endowed state universities. Far from being academically innovative, urban universities were perceived as plodding, intellectual backwaters increasingly irrelevant in a dynamic new information age. As a result, enrollment stagnated.

At UMKC, administrators were perceived as distant and aloof. The university seemed to run itself--with little distinction. Budgets were abstract documents produced by unseen administrators, not comprehended by the university's diverse constituents. Academic units saw themselves as fiefdoms in pursuit of their own objectives. They saw little need to wrestle with how all the pieces of the university fit together, how together they could build a better place of learning.

This culture began to change three years ago when a new chancellor arrived at UMKC's campus and decided the institution needed to set new educational standards befitting a shrinking, fast-changing world. The chancellor and her team quickly planted the seeds of change. After a 16-month campus-wide effort, the university launched the Budgeting for Excellence initiative to shift UMKC's culture toward a leadership model of open, honest communication and actions based on institutional vision. The project goal was to design a process, system, and structure for strategic allocation of resources to achieve sustainable excellence.

This major undertaking is resulting in a redefined, innovative context for financial management and budgeting. The model established a roadmap for the distribution of revenue based on performance and contributions to strategic and operational goals. It is effective during periods of fiscal uncertainty, and increases internal efficiency and public trust. This article describes how UMKC transformed its budget process and, by so doing, revitalized the campus community.


Urban universities are saddled with unique financial challenges, inertia, and mandates. They rely on impenetrable, misaligned budget instruments that limit rather than encourage flexibility and creative problem solving. Increasingly, these detrimental forces restrict resources at a time when universities--urban universities in particular--must be highly responsive to academic and community needs and committed to careful stewardship of public funds.

Prior to Budgeting for Excellence, UMKC's internal stakeholders had voiced concerns about the university's budget process for many years. They viewed budgeting as a closed developmental process unconnected to organizational performance and long-term initiatives. They had little confidence in the process, which was devoid of formal procedures, training, and future planning. Budgeting was "top down," with remote senior administrators shaping plans that affected the success of mid-level administrators, faculty, and students. Meanwhile, the call for stronger academic performance to meet educational, professional, and career goals was at an all-time high.

The foundation for the Budgeting for Excellence model was the National Advisory Council on State and Local Budgeting's recommended budget practices. Improving government budgeting is one of the biggest challenges facing state and local governments today. UMKC found that the NACSLB guidelines were readily adaptable to any public institution, including universities. As such, Budgeting for Excellence embraces the fundamental tenets of the NACSLB framework:

* Establish broadgoals to guide government decision making -- A government should establish goals to provide overall direction and to guide decision making. …

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