Innovation makes its way to the college business office
Unity College’s new Chief Business Officer Holli Costedio aims to break the mold
As higher educational institutions continue to face challenges in every facet of the business, some schools are stepping outside the common definition of finance. Some schools are breaking the mold.
Unity College is making a change toward innovative financial strategies that, until recently, have been mostly foreign to the industry. Aligning with recent recommendations from the National Association of College and University Business Officers, new Chief Business Officer Holli Costedio will imagine improvements to risk and asset management at the college while also being a catalyst for growth and resilience.
In keeping with President Melik Peter Khoury’s vision and Unity College’s distinctive Leadership in Abundance approach, Costedio’s focus so far has been to work alongside the president and leadership team towards new business models and joint ventures that will reduce tuition dependency and diversify the school’s revenue portfolio.These new potential ventures, referred to as Strategic Education Business Units (SEBUs), will open doors for students, staff, and faculty alike, allowing more real-world experiences within the college safety net and learning network while also helping hold tuition increases in check.
“Given we were trying something so new to the industry, it was critical that we hire someone with a strong understanding of the cultural and inner nuances of Unity College. Holli is that person — she has both watched and lived this new, evolving role at our school and is perfectly suited for the job,” Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. “Holli’s experience and background will allow her to properly steward our revenue to maximize the impact of a Unity College education because, as they say, ‘no margin, no mission.’”
Costedio will shake up industry standards for CBO positions by bringing much needed gender diversity to the field. In 2016, women represented roughly one third of CBOs at all types of higher educational institutions — and only 27% of CBOs at private two-year and four-year institutions were female. According to the 2016 National Profile Of Higher Education Chief Business Officers, the “typical” CBO is a 56-year-old white male who has been in his current position for about eight years.
“I think we’re different because we’re being so proactive. We’re not waiting until we’re personally in crisis mode — we see that there’s a crisis in higher ed, and we have a plan to combat it. The enterprise model is a prime example of that. We’re rethinking our whole model,” Costedio said. “I like challenges, and it’s definitely a challenge, coming up with new ideas. And I really feel like I’m making a difference by trying to find a way to help save small privates.”
As a trusted strategic partner and consultant within the school’s senior leadership team, Costedio is first among equals for the budgeting process, return on investment modeling, financial management, financial planning and reporting, auxiliary services, and institutional risk management. Many of the more classic, transactional duties of a CFO will now fall to Unity’s new Controller position, who will work with Costedio to do risk assessment, auditing, reporting, transactions, purchasing, policies and procedures, compliance, and solvency. This new structure allows Costedio to focus more on proven strategy and data based decision-making grounded in creative and innovative thinking.
America’s Environmental College first welcomed Costedio in September of 2014 as Senior Accountant, and promoted her first to Business Manager and then to Interim Chief Business Officer in October 2016. Her ongoing connection to Unity’s students, faculty, and staff allows her to relatably and thoughtfully express current and future business practices Costedio is excited about getting the college community engaged with the business office for “more than coming in to pay bills,” she joked. As CBO she is always accessible for ideas, concerns and questions about the financial direction of the school.
Before coming to Unity College, Costedio spent time as the Finance Manager at Husson University, and the Accounting and Business Manager at New England School of Communications.