Lehigh University – Jim Quinn
How Agile Planning Can Lead to Financial Stability
Jim Quinn is the Director of Financial Planning at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. One of the nation's most distinguished private research universities today, this institution was founded in 1865 and is inherently linked to America's rise as an industrial power.
However, in 2021, Lehigh ran into trouble as the Covid pandemic negatively impacted its financial statements. They worked to maintain their enrollments, but Lehigh's actions to alleviate their problems made little headway. During this time, though, there was a change in leadership that opened the door for Lehigh to reevaluate their strategy. Coming from Dartmouth, the new President quickly noticed that Lehigh's admission rate was at an all-time high. To meet their numbers for the year, Lehigh had to accept more and more new students since most of Lehigh's funding originates from undergrad tuition and room & board. Leadership's initial plan was to reduce admissions to pre-Covid levels and restore prestige to the University by freezing the incoming class at 1,500 students for five years.
Realizing the imminent financial strains that would come from an admission freeze stretching half a decade, Jim Quinn and his team proposed that they model multiple enrollment pause scenarios to develop a solution that met the University's needs without breaking their financial health. Lehigh has been using Synario for about five years, and Jim’s team has spent much time creating an in-depth, easy-to-use model for others to utilize. They made a ten-year plan with dozens of assumptions applied, built upon the college's historical trends and goals from senior leadership. This served as their base model for their enrollment freeze planning.
Using the prior leadership's scenario as the starting base case, Jim's team came up with eight alternative scenarios with enrollment pauses ranging from two to five years: four with traditional capital expenditures, and the same four exploring a public-private partnership. Rather than show the leadership team each plan, they compiled the most valuable information into what they call a Cumulative Impact Matrix, which showed the positive and negative results in each model's plan. In seeing these plans and their outcomes side by side, the President was convinced that a three-year pause on enrollment with a break on building the new residence hall would be more viable for the future of Lehigh's financial stability and prestige than his original plan of a five-year pause. Thanks to Synario's modeling system, they were able to help guide senior administration to make an insightful decision on a scenario estimated to save Lehigh $25 Million.
Without these multiple scenarios running, Lehigh wouldn't have actually had a way of showing whether or not the original five-year pause would benefit the University in the long run. Improper planning could have had a negative impact on their finances and potentially undone the benefits of having the enrollment hold in the first place. But with the help of Synario, Lehigh Leadership was able to strengthen their reporting and data analysis, realize a plan that fits their needs & growth, and understand the long-term effects of their projects.
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- 0:05 – Lehigh Background
- 1:49 – Maintaining Enrollment During COVID
- 5:42 – Peer Comparison
- 8:11 – Lehigh’s Synario Model
- 12:29 – Multiple Scenarios for Enrollment Pause Impacts
- 15:28 – Synario Model: Base Case
- 16:35 – Synario Model: Scenario 2
- 17:50 – Finding the Best Case Scenario with Lehigh’s Cumulative Impact Matrix
- 21:00 – Lehigh’s Communications and Decision
- 24:58 – What’s next for Lehigh?
- 26:20 – What decisions are you hoping to get out of your next analysis with Synario?
- 27:58 – Were there any challenges that you and leadership ran into when working together, model related or not?
- 29:36 – Is there anyone else that was involved in the decision-making process that you didn’t highlight?
- 32:31 – What was leadership’s reaction to seeing proposals in Synario versus other software they might have?
- 35:01 – How was the three-year recommendation chosen?
- 37:42 – It’s early, but have you noticed any signs pointing towards the decision you made being the right one?
- 49:14 – Q&A #8: How do you hire people with Synario experience?