After its first application nearly 40 years ago, responsibility center budgeting/responsibility center management (RCB/RCM) is now in place at nearly 70 major North American universities. An unstudied fact is that despite its popularity RCB/RCM is rarely deployed to its fullest extent. Instead, it usually exists in parallel with conventional planning and budget models. This study asks why, instead of fully implementing RCB/RCM, universities have chosen to apply it partially. The study finds multiple explanations. On the revenue side, some universities hold back a portion of income to create funds that are used to underwrite institution-wide strategies or subsidize mission-central academic programs that cannot be fiscally sustained under RCB/RCM. In other cases, revenue is held back to fund shared “public utility” services, while in still others the practice of holding back revenue for allocation by some other means is due to difficulty in drawing a functional line between the “academic” and the “non-academic.” On the cost side, some universities have limited the application of RCB/RCM in order to limit market behavior and forestall “fragmentation” (Burke 2007). The study points to several problems in both the practice and theory of RCB/RCM. For example, models meant in theory to complement RCB/RCM may in practice compete with it or promote monopolistic behavior.
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