Department of Educational Administration


Date of this Version



Reissenweber, B. (2012). Financial indicators in strategic decision making: Recommended practices for financial officers at small private colleges and universities in the midwestern United States. PhD dissertation. University of Nebraska.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies (Educational Leadership and Higher Education), Under the Supervision of Professor Brent D. Cejda. Lincoln, Nebraska: September 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Beth Reissenweber


This study explored whether financial leaders and institutional governing boards use financial indicators as a tool to inform decision making, solely as a compliance measurement tool, or not at all. The purpose of this qualitative study was two-fold to: (a) identify the use of financial indicators in strategic decision making, and (b) investigate how institutions use financial indicators to support governing boards in making strategic decisions. The data were obtained from a survey of 214 financial officers to identify the use of financial indicators, and in-depth interviews with leaders from six institutions who indicated strategic use of financial indicators to inform governing boards.

The findings indicated that most financial officers compute financial ratios which measure tuition dependency, enrollment trends, and institutional discount rates. The majority of financial officers, however, do not use financial indicators to inform decision making with their governing boards. A number of barriers confront financial officers including: lack of time, understanding and interest of the president and governing board, “traditional think,” and a culture that is slow to change.

Financial officers must obtain approval from the institution’s president as the gatekeeper in order to focus on a specific financial indicator with the governing board. The financial indicator must be presented to the board in a consistent, clear, and transparent manner. The financial officer must be an excellent communicator in his/her delivery of financial data. The study supported findings from the literature that financial indicators must be linked to planning to promote strategy and create meaning in order to inform decision making.

These findings should be of interest to institutional leaders who seek ways to improve the use of financial indicators to inform strategic decision making. Additionally, the study contributed to identifying best practices to share with financial officers who persevere in advocating the use of financial indicators to create meaning and promote institutional financial health.

Adviser: Brent Cejda