The primary roles of Swarthmore's finance and institutional research areas are to oversee the financial responsibilities of the College and to provide objective data and research to support planning, decision-making, and assessment across the College. This information includes both financial data and general institutional data. Swarthmore College is committed to making decisions based on objective data and analysis. Therefore the division has a dual responsibility to:
- ensure and monitor the linkages between assessment and planning at the College as a whole, and
- assess the effectiveness of the units within the division in meeting their own unit goals and objectives.
Planning and Assessment at the College
The Finance areas embrace the principles of a sound financial position and financial sustainability and equilibrium. The College seeks to have balanced budgets with a sustainable reliance on endowment support. The College desires to have a financial position that reflects an allocation of resources in alignment with the priorities of the College's mission. It recognizes that the College's resources are not just financial, but also include its human resources (faculty, staff, and students), as well as its physical assets (buildings and land). It seeks to sustain these resources over time so that future generations of the College will have the same benefits as present generations. This is accomplished through processes that clearly tie budgeting and decision-making with planning. For example, it is the College's practice to assume no increases for departmental budgets or in faculty or staff positions. Although the annual budget does, in fact, have some funds available for increases and additions, these funds are pooled centrally. Departments must submit a specific request for any increase. After meeting unavoidable cost increases, this practice has resulted in a gradual reallocation of resources to the most compelling, high priority needs as identified in our annual planning process.
The Finance areas include the Business Office, the Financial Aid Office, the Investment Office, and the Office of the Vice President for Finance. In addition to the broader goals outlined above, these offices also have operational responsibility for financial transactions (student accounts, accounts payable, accounts receivable, financial aid, etc.) They seek to provide these services as efficiently and effectively as possible, with an emphasis on service to the College community and professionalism in dealings with both internal and external entities.
The Institutional Research Office goals fall generally into two categories - research and reporting. The office conducts specialized studies in support of campus needs and priorities; provides support for academic and administrative assessment efforts; coordinates, administers, analyzes, and reports on survey research projects; and serves as a resource for research expertise for other areas of the College. The office also provides reporting and research for management decisions, as well as to meet externally mandated reporting obligations.
Some of the resources, tools, and strategies used by these areas to assess financial and institutional effectiveness are:
- The College hires Cambridge Associates to provide comparative endowment data. It also participates in the annual Commonfund endowment survey. These services provide data on both the endowment investment return relative to peers, along with data on operational trends and best practices. The College also hires specialist consultants for specific asset classes in the endowment.
- As an issuer of bonds in the public debt markets, Swarthmore receives bond ratings from both the Moody's and Standard & Poor's rating agencies. These agencies provide detailed comparative data for a number of financial and operating ratios. The College has hired Yuba Consulting to provide independent financing advice and comparative peer information on an ongoing basis.
- The College participates in a consortium of selective private institutions and has access to extensive institutional data and survey information from this group. Using data from this consortium and other sources, the Institutional Research Office prepares an annual report of College Indicators for senior leadership.
- The College administers numerous surveys to students (incoming, enrolled, graduating), alumni, parents, and faculty on a regular schedule.
- Long-term financial projections are prepared on a regular basis to test the sustainability of the College's financial structure and conduct sensitivity analyses of key underlying assumptions.
- The Board has long-standing, effective committees for Finance, Investment, and Audit & Risk Management. A new Admissions & Financial Aid committee began in 2012.
Assessment of Division Effectiveness
In addition to supporting institutional effectiveness activities, a number of the studies mentioned above have components that reflect on the performance of individual units in the division. For example, financial and enrollment projections are monitored for their accuracy and success at anticipating changes. Projections that are outside of an acceptable margin (which happens rarely) are studied so that any needed changes can be made to the models to improve accuracy. Excellent bond ratings are of course based on the performance of the College, but they also require a level of effectiveness at collecting, coordinating, and providing the data needed by the ratings agencies; the success of the Board Investment Committee is dependent on the abilities of the team in the Investment Office in presenting information for its consideration, and in carrying out its decisions.
As part of the assessment of their internal effectiveness, the managers of each of these areas provide a self-assessment of the prior year, and provide annual reports of goals and objectives and assessment plans for the following year. The Finance and Institutional Research team meets together several times a year. At the beginning of the fall semester, a longer meeting is held and plans and activities for the year are shared.
Financial Aid Office
Finance and Investment Offices
The responsibilities and assessment activities of the Audit Committee, Finance Committe, Investment Committee, Property Committe, and Committee on Investor Responsibility, board committees supported by members of the Finance Division, may be found at the Finance and Investment Offices' Website.