Higher education client showcase: Carroll University: a true partner

Every day we learn from our clients. In support of our ongoing mission to connect clients with meaningful, relevant insights, Baker Tilly shares periodic client showcases. In the below Q&A session with Baker Tilly client Ronald Lostetter, Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services at Carroll University, Ron discusses the growth and change he’s seen at Carroll University, and the impact of change on the industry.

Give us a little background on your various roles within Higher Education, and then talk specifically about what you enjoy most about your current role.

Initially, I graduated from high school and went to work in the local factory. When I decided shift work wasn’t for me, I began attending the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Immediately following graduation, I was hired as an accountant in the business office on campus, and I’ve been in the business office ever since! I’ve spent most of my career in accounting and finance departments within the state system (at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, Stevens Point, Superior, and Eau Claire), but a little over ten years ago, I began in my current role at Carroll University as the Vice President of Finance and Administrative Services.

What I enjoy most about my role at Carroll is the balancing act of responsibility one has at an institution like this one. While the school doesn’t receive the financial support of the state like the public institutions do, it is easier to make changes in strategic priorities – all because we are small and more nimble.

What makes Carroll University unique?

In my opinion, three things set Carroll University apart from other small private institutions and from Wisconsin state schools. First, Carroll was the first four-year higher education institution in Wisconsin. It was established in 1846. It is also the only four-year institution in Waukesha County, which is located between Dane and Milwaukee counties, making it the economic center of the state. Our location makes us unique in a very positive way; it’s one of the reasons we’ve been around since 1846 and why we’re so successful today.

Secondly, the addition of allied health programs to the undergraduate curriculum allowed us to grow and expand into graduate programming. Our strong financial base today is due to allied health programs and graduate programming. What makes us unique is not the availability of graduate programming, but the type and caliber of programming. We have a nursing program, a fairly large exercise science program, and believe it or not, the country’s largest physical therapy program. We are also known for our occupational therapy, education, and MBA graduate programs

Lastly, we are unique because of our focus on making our students employable. We honor our liberal arts tradition, but strive to set our students apart. With such a small enrollment, we can focus more intently on each student’s growth and development, and invest in them more intentionally and fully.

What changes in higher education have had the biggest impact?

I note significant impact from increased accountability and expectations from the government, and not just state government, but also the federal government. These regulations and expectations change the way we operate, and the level of accountability requires more effort on our part. Also, technological advancements have had a huge impact on higher education as an industry. Students expect their institution to keep up with these changes in technology. It used to be that students were looking for one or two computers on campus. Then, we put in computer labs to accommodate a greater number of students. Now, it’s connectivity. All of campus has to be WiFi capable! It’s really about making sure we have the right resources in the right places for our students.

Carroll University has been a long-time financial statement audit client of Baker Tilly’s. In that time, what has changed in the way you manage finances, fiscal compliance, and financial decision-making?

The biggest change has been the effect of regulations on higher education, even when those regulations are a result of something that has occurred in another industry, like banking or auditing. We feel the increased regulations in the way we do business. There are higher risks related to financial and online transactions, for example, identity theft. We can’t afford to have someone hack the system and steal our students’ personal information.

One of the biggest advantages to having Baker Tilly as our audit partner is that Baker Tilly worries about the same things Carroll worries about and has the depth of experience with many other institutions’ across the country. We benefit from that breadth and depth of knowledge and their ability to help us navigate new financial management regulations and approaches to how we manage our finances. It’s truly invaluable to us. I can’t think of any instance where the advice given was anything but valuable. We also really appreciate that when we need help assessing things like our approach to human capital management, we have a go-to resource, and we can seek the experience and expertise of those that have the ability to point us in the right direction.

Another thing that has changed in the way we do business is that our forecasts and budget projections have to be more accurate. We can’t create a budget and then wait until the end of the year to see how we did. We spend a lot of time evaluating how we’re doing with the budget and we forecast how it will play out. We factor that enrollment leads to rooms’ utilization on campus, which leads to food service demand. And we look at this throughout both semesters. You have to factor the interrelationships all of these elements into your planning.

Let’s talk about human capital management. Baker Tilly helped Carroll University look at its resource allocation. What about the effort was a surprise? What was really helpful?

Higher education is a personnel-driven industry. Institutions have a lot of positions to manage. We had several vacancies open and used that as an opportunity to engage Baker Tilly to review our process. We needed experts to remind us what works best in human resources, and we valued the expertise of Baker Tilly having performed this type of work elsewhere. It was perfect timing!

We wanted to make our processes as effective and efficient as possible. Baker Tilly’s report served as a reminder that we have to be good at managing the department and the individuals within it. We must consider this as a strategic function of operating a campus and achieving our mission, not just consider the transactional side of human resource management.

Have you encountered anything else that you would consider a significant shift in higher education? How has Baker Tilly helped in that area?

Baker Tilly has just been a true partner to us. It’s just a very unique, true partnership.

If you could have given yourself advice early in your career, what would it have been?

First, I would encourage more people to get into this business. My advice would also be to take more measured risks. Speak up when you have an idea – your input is more valuable and appreciated than you know. Being a “yes” person isn’t always as valuable as bringing your own perspective and opinions. So I would advise that young people provide more input because they have great ideas and those ideas just might work!