Insights from the ACBO 2023 Fall Conference: Navigating Fiscal Challenges and Innovating Campus Operations

The Association of Chief Business Officials (ACBO) hosted its biannual Fall Conference in Santa Barbara from October 23-25, 2023. This gathering brought together community college business officers from across the state, offering a platform for professional development through educational sessions and the exchange of best practices among colleagues and corporate counterparts.  

Key Conference Highlights:
Thought-provoking sessions covered diverse topics, including discussions on leadership and ethics compliance, cybersecurity awareness and protection, 2024 bond election strategies, fiscal viability assessment of instructional programs, student housing, liability lawsuits, public records requests, and optimizing bookstore operations. 

A significant focus was placed on the State Budget during a general session. Themes emerged, highlighting concerns such as softening state revenues, Proposition 98 minimum guarantees remaining below 2021-22 levels, increased reliance on one-time revenue to pay for ongoing cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), and the postponement of tax filings until November. This collective scenario showed this year’s State Budget as the riskiest in a decade. Undoubtedly, more clarity will be provided in January 2024, when initial drafts of the State Budget are distributed. 

Insight into Specific Topics:

Student Housing 
Several sessions delved into the impact of Senate Bill (SB) 117, which shifted funding sources for all Higher Education Student Housing Grant Program projects from the state General Fund to local lease revenue bonds issued by colleges. This change applied to the twelve prior California Community Colleges (CCC) projects originally funded by $547 million in the 2022 State Budget Act, the seven new CCC housing projects authorized by SB 117, and any future housing projects. The purpose of this change was to lessen the fiscal burden of the projects as the state faced a $26 billion budget problem, yet created uncertainty and a shift of fiscal responsibility onto the CCCs. 

To address the concerns expressed by the colleges, the Legislature passed a clean-up bill, SB 142, that included legislative intent for a statewide lease revenue bond or other statewide financing or fiscal approach to be developed and included to support CCC student housing projects. Additionally, the Department of Finance assured the Legislature that no CCCs that had already received funding for the program would need to return those dollars to the state as they look for a solution. As such, one session focused on the key characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks of alternative student housing financing structures, including general obligation bonds (GO Bonds), certificates of participation (COPs), public-private partnerships (P3), zero-interest loans, USDA Rural Development Programs, and other state financing options.

Campus Bookstores
Post-pandemic changes were evident in campus bookstore operations, with declining sales being a notable concern. A session was dedicated to exploring ways to improve bookstore operations amidst challenges such as shifting student purchasing habits, online competition, textbook affordability issues, and new business and subscription models from publishers. Panelists encouraged college leadership to evaluate the financial performance, operations, business models, and facility requirements of their existing bookstore. Two districts shared their experiences, one transitioning from self-operation to contract management and the other transitioning to a virtual bookstore model, including the process, considerations, and benefits of doing so.

The CCC purchasing community was well-represented at the Fall Conference, including CollegeBuys representatives, current procurement officers, and former procurement officers now serving in CBO roles. The event provided a valuable platform for learning and networking. Notably, the growing representation of purchasing professionals underscored the conference’s continued relevance and increased upward mobility of procurement officers into CBO roles.

CollegeBuys is actively supporting CCC student housing projects and is now exploring a systemwide approach to a virtual bookstore. Resources for CCC student housing projects may be accessed here. For inquiries or more information about either of these initiatives, please contact cbcontracts@foundationccc.org

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