An interactive view of Webster University's campus.
New CFO’s tenure begins as Webster looks to combat budget issues
Webster University’s new chief financial officer Ana Karaman is facing a difficult road to prosperity.
In January of 2016, the university announced a budget shortfall of nearly $7 million, necessitating budget cuts during the spring semester. It was the fourth consecutive year of shortfalls for Webster.
Webster President Elizabeth Stroble attributed the financial difficulties to a decline in enrollment at Webster’s satellite campuses, following a five-year trend in which enrollment across graduate and undergraduate programs declined by a total of 23 percent. Ninety-five percent of Webster’s total revenue comes from tuition intake.
On January 15, former chief financial officer Greg Gunderson left the university to become Park University’s president, leaving his position vacant. Former interim Chief Financial OfficerDoug Anderson led the office while a search committee sought a new candidate.
Karaman, who has also worked at the University of Washington Bothell and the University of San Francisco, said she was attracted to Webster’s student culture.
“One of the primary reasons for me for selecting this job was meeting the students who were in the interview process,” Karaman said. “Hearing why they decided to come to Webster, why it met their needs and why they love Webster, in a large degree made the decision for me.”
On Sept. 11, Karaman officially began her new position, which places her in at the helm of Webster’s budgetary and financial struggles.
“The first task is obviously get to know the institution as much as possible, to meet with as many people across the entire institution as there are possible to meet, including obviously students,” Karaman said. “I am here first and foremost for students.”
Karaman said repairing Webster’s money problems will require long-term planning and focusing on the the university’s academic vision.
“That’s one of the challenges, how do we look at delivering in a way which is affordable and accessible?” Karaman said. “My primary goal is to work very closely with Academic Affairs.”
Karaman said financial difficulties are common to all higher education institutions in recent years, both public and private. At her previous institution, the public University of Washington, Karaman said the finances went from 80 percent public funding to 80 percent tuition.
Across the board, student debt is also rising, along with default rates. Proposals to address the issue generally aim at providing free tuition at public colleges and universities, something that could leave private institutions like Webster in the cold.
Despite the trend, Karaman sees a future for private education and the unique experience that Webster offers.
“I know that President Stroble is working on increasing the endowment, and one of the reasons to have a healthy endowment is to provide student scholarships,” Karaman said. “Also looking at academic innovation, how we can offer certain types of educational experiences – not necessarily degree-producing experiences, but they will enhance our offerings and also help us to bring more revenues in.”
Karaman said when Russia began to allow private industry during the collapse of the Soviet Union, the educational sector was one of the first to privatize.
“My view obviously is biased, coming from the Soviet Union,” Karaman said. “In the Soviet Union, all state education was dictated by the government. But even in a free society, there is something to be said about private non-profit, when you don’t have ties with the state and with the government.”
Despite low enrollment at some of Webster’s international campuses, Karaman believes they can still be an asset.
“There is definitely something that is unique to Webster,” Karaman said. “There is no other institution as global as Webster.”
Webster’s faculty assembly previously raised concerns about financial decisions, such as the large bonuses given to administration officials and the different rates at which salaries have been raised for faculty and staff.
Karaman said these decisions are largely the territory of the Board of Trustees, but they are likely based on Webster’s financial status.
“There’s always less resources than there are needs,” Karaman said. “I think financial literacy and financial education is a big factor. There should be no black box about finances. When something goes in the black box, you shake it and something comes out of it, but no one knows what happens inside. So there should be absolute transparency about what happens inside and why we’re making certain investments and why funds are allocated to certain areas.”