Cal Poly State University Strengthens Financial Reporting and Builds Trust using OpenGov

POPULATION: 18,762  |  AGENCY TYPE: Public University  |  ANNUAL BUDGET: $270 million

Founded in 1901, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) is one of five comprehensive polytechnic universities in the U.S., with about 18,000 undergraduate and 900 graduate students. Located in San Luis Obispo, 200 miles north of Los Angeles, Cal Poly maintains a guiding philosophy of “Learn by Doing” that is reflected in the school’s comprehensive curriculum, which combines technical and professional training with the arts and humanities. As one of the most selective universities in the California State University (CSU) system, Cal Poly consistently ranks among the “Best in the West” by U.S. News and World Report and is considered one of “The Best Colleges for Your Money” by Money Magazine.


State Budget Cuts Reduce Higher Education Funding


In recent years, maintaining Cal Poly’s nationally-ranked status has proved challenging as state legislators in Sacramento have slashed higher education funding to address the state’s own budget woes. Between Fiscal Year 2007/08 and Fiscal Year 2014/15, state funding for Cal Poly declined approximately 30 percent. In an era of perennial budget cuts, University administrators became increasingly cognizant of strengthening transparency to reduce misconceptions about and mistrust in University decisions and finances. However, the traditional financial reports the University disseminated to stakeholders as PDFs were only static snapshots that limited engagement.


Budget Director Discovers and Implements OpenGov


The President of Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) introduced Cal Poly’s Budget Director Victor Brancart to OpenGov’s interactive budget platform. Brancart realized the platform could allow students and other stakeholders to access expenditure information and better understand how Cal Poly was allocating its financial resources.

State funding for Cal Poly was reduced by 30 percent between FY 2007/2008 and FY 2014/2015.

Furthermore, OpenGov’s affordability and limited number of implementation requirements made it easy for him to move forward with adopting the platform. Brancart was relieved to learn that implementation would not require heavy lifting from the University’s already overtaxed IT department. “The beauty of the application is that I didn’t have to involve IT. I just downloaded the Chart of Accounts from our dashboard and sent it to OpenGov. In less than two days, they replicated our account structure on the platform and uploaded six years of budget actuals,” Brancart said.

Since implementing the platform, Brancart has also been able to easily upload new budget actual figures as they become available. “What made it easy was the product’s new ‘wizard’ where you load the data from Excel files by yourself – it’s basically self-service,” he said. “It was slick. I have six years’ worth of data that is accessible on the website, and it only took me a couple of hours to upload it. It saves a lot of time.”

“OpenGov builds trust among everybody, because we are being transparent.”
Victor Brancart, Budget Director, Cal Poly

The New Buzz on Campus


Brancart and other Cal Poly leaders now use OpenGov to show students, faculty, and staff how the University spends resources across all divisions. “Students see increases in the faculty salary expenditures that translate into hiring more faculty and adding more courses. That helps them get the credits they need to graduate. It builds trust among everybody because we are being transparent,” explained Brancart.

“OpenGov isn’t static. You can slice and dice data however you want.”
Victor Brancart, Budget Director, Cal Poly

The platform’s user interface also appeals to students who are accustomed to receiving information in an interactive, digital format. “What I like about OpenGov is that it is not static. It has a graphical, interactive user interface, so you can slice and dice data however you want,” Brancart commented. He said has also noticed a new buzz word on campus. “The word ‘transparency’ is all over campus these days, and I think OpenGov is a significant step towards achieving that goal in higher education.”

University administrators sought to better educate the public through greater financial transparency.

Most important, there is widespread confidence among students and other stakeholders that the University is being open about how it stewards financial resources. “When you are a public institution and not forthcoming with data, people think you are hiding something,” Brancart noted. “Now, everyone is getting the whole picture through OpenGov because you just throw open your books and the institution is totally transparent.”


New Budget Management Platform Benefits All Stakeholders


Brancart has also recognized how the OpenGov platform can be used to analyze, share, and apply information across the University’s entire budget: “I love the fact that you can tell stories with it. I will display a metric on a pie chart or bar graph and can quickly show how it has changed over five years.”

Within a complex budget structure, the ability to quickly drill down into budget detail and compare spending across years has been invaluable for University decision makers. Brancart and his team can use OpenGov to track and report how spending aligns with Cal Poly’s stated Cal Poly. “Everybody has seen OpenGov – the President, deans, faculty, and students – and they all really like it. It gives everyone a snapshot of what’s going on at the level of detail they desire.”

Budget Director implemented OpenGov to give students real-time access to University financial information.

Results

  • Increased Budget Transparency.

    OpenGov enables Cal Poly to clearly illustrate for students how the University allocates financial resources to improve their education.

  • Easy Implementation Saves IT Department Time.

    The University’s budget office successfully implemented the cloud-based software without burdening the already busy IT department.

  • Improved Management Reporting.

    OpenGov provides stakeholders unprecedented access to expenditure data across various funds, allowing them to easily analyze, share, and apply financial information.

  • Finance Office Saves Time Updating Budget Information.

    After initially uploading historic expenditure data to OpenGov, the Cal Poly finance team easily keeps the data fresh and up-to-date using the platform’s efficient upload manager.

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