Achieving Financial Sustainability Through Times of Uncertainty

The global pandemic is transforming industries at break-neck speed, and for some of them, beyond recognition. One of those industries is higher education. The traditional model, including in-person lectures and learning, physical participation in college activities, and on-campus social engagement, has been a mainstay for most higher education institutions for hundreds of years.  

Then, a pandemic hit. Campuses closed. Students went home. The college experience as we knew it transformed. 

While colleges and universities are moving to attract students back to campus, the campus experience is being viewed differently. Now, parents and families are having hard conversations, wondering why they should pay full tuition, room and board, and additional fees for in-person campus experiences, when, in many cases, students are required to attend courses remotely from their dorm rooms for several months. The capabilities of distance and hybrid learning mean that students can learn effectively from the comfort of their own homes, while reducing risk to their health and the health of others.

Now, schools are challenged to justify tuition cost structures. For families under financial pressure, this could save tuition cost, as they compare to other online options available. And it gives universities an opportunity to expand their overall student enrollment through innovative new offerings, while maintaining the in-person student experience. But this means that traditional funding mechanisms for higher education institutions are under significant pressure. 

As these new models based on hybrid learning take root, how can higher education institutions maintain existing academic standards, deliver degree and research programs, increase revenue, and transform their funding models in a post-pandemic world?

Reducing Costs While Maximizing Experiences

Administrators around the world are asking: “How can I provide the best student and faculty experience, while adjusting budgets within my institution?” This question requires us to assess the educational institution as we know it. This includes:

Building consolidation 

  • To what extent were existing buildings occupied before the virus?  How will they be occupied post-pandemic with additional online student teaching facilities? Campus leaders can consider ways to adjust or consolidate spaces, reduce the number of buildings owned or leased by the university, assess the spaces and how they are used, and sell or not extend existing leases on buildings that are no longer needed.


  • What spaces are utilized by faculty and administration? How many of those individuals can work remotely in the future, at what fraction? Will administrative staff accept not having a campus office? Will their business and campus counterparts accept not meeting in person? Invest in effective, seamless, and secure collaboration tools to connect campus administration, no matter where they are. 

Network and technology simplification

  • What tools are available to simplify and converge institutions with research networks? Evaluate your networks and leverage tools like Cisco DNA Center to automate and orchestrate network management. Look to technology vendors for competitive leasing programs to invest in solutions that will save time and money (e.g. networking, the cloud, or data center), protect your hard-earned brand (e.g. security), and deliver new revenue streams (e.g. collaboration).


  • Reduce potential damage to your brand, compliance issues, and student experience by investing in cybersecurity solutions. Ensure that web, network, and device endpoint technology is secure to prevent and mitigate costly cyberattacks. Implement comprehensive security policies with time-saving analytics, and train faculty, staff, and students about cybersecurity best practices to ensure security compliance and reduce the risk of breach. 

Delivering New Revenue Streams

Universities are spaces of innovation. Research. Student entrepreneurs. Professors with deep intellectual and industry knowledge. Take advantage of the entrepreneurial and forward-thinking mentality prevalent in higher education by taking a closer look at how to deliver new revenue streams. 

New tuition offerings based on course type or function

  • Whether they are purely online, hybrid, or in-person, degree or non-degree, offer tuition levels accordingly. This can help to attract students previously unable to attend your institution due to cost or physical location. Consider ways to identify and reach new students from across the state, country, and globe with effective online learning courses and options. Provide more value to on-campus experiences, such as student living and counseling. Assess how to best allocate students to professors. To meet the needs of the increased load of students, scale course sizes and add Teaching Assistants that are trained and skilled online.

Leverage Research

  • Increase the intellectual capital of your university by investing in and emphasizing research capabilities. Institutional research leveraging university data can also provide insight into cost-reduction strategies or the financial success of investments. For example, when Arizona State University implemented eAdvisor, it used its research capabilities to showcase how reducing students in exploratory freshmen majors and helping students select majors sooner achieved an average per student cost savings of $31,000 per year.

Reach into the Community.

  • Work with the local business community to repurpose classrooms, buildings and learning spaces. Lease spaces to local entrepreneurs interested in being housed on a college campus. Promote the advantages of the college population as a workforce in the advancement of entrepreneurship.

Transforming Funding and Financing

As you approach the next quarter, semester or academic year, it is possible to fund innovation and evolution in your institution. Engage leaders from across the institution to be a part of the solution – work with them to develop new innovations to connect and engage learners, and to deliver a high-quality, seamless learning experience. Today, we have a unique experience to reimagine and reinvent the way we finance education. Let’s use this opportunity to transform, evolve, and adapt to a changing education landscape. 

explore how Cisco is transforming education

Funding is tight today. We get that. That’s why at Cisco, we are committed to helping you innovate and invest in technology effectively, while ensuring financial feasibility. Over the course of this month, keep an eye out for #EducationNow blogs on Cisco Capital, Cisco Refresh, E-Rate, and Country Digital Acceleration, and stay tuned for an e-book asset on Investing in Education. 

funding and financing in education month

What is your biggest funding or financing challenge today? Tell us in the comments. 


Renee Patton

Former Global Director of Education and Healthcare

Global Industry Solutions Group