Pennsylvania College Moves from Static Budgets to More Flexible Rolling Forecasts

The small five-person finance team at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences handles a lot of responsibilities, including purchasing, receivables, tax returns and overall accounting. Budgeting, however, was by far the team’s biggest pain point. By 2014, manual budgeting in Excel became so time-consuming and arduous that it was time to upgrade to a modern and streamlined solution.


When Michelle Chaffin, the Director of Finance and Administration, joined the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences in 2003, it had fewer than 400 students. Today, the institution serves about 1,900 students with two dozen undergraduate and graduate academic programs in nursing, respiratory care, healthcare administration and more. With steady growth in enrollment, programs and faculty, annual budgeting cycles grew more complex and could drag on for up to five months.

As Chaffin explains it, the finance team collaborated with more than 30 department-level budget owners who would input operating expenses and other key data into individual spreadsheet templates. But that was just the start.

“Anytime a change would need to be made all of those templates would need to be updated and revised. Just to consolidate all of that information took forever,” Chaffin said. “It was such a manual process that our annual budgets took four to five months at least.”

Separately, the Lancaster-based college used spreadsheets for enrollment data, tuition planning and HR staffing. It fell to the finance team to roll up about 40 spreadsheets into a single Excel file with about 50 tabs. A lack of version control, visibility and flexibility to easily make changes made budgeting a moving target that introduced risk and undermined confidence.


Live in January 2015, Planful has prompted a shift from annual static budgets to flexible rolling forecasts that look two years out. The finance team and 30-plus budget owners collaborate in the cloud-based Continuous Planning Platform to update data once a month, not once a year. The result is more timely, accurate and insightful information. Ongoing monitoring and as-needed adjustments help ensure sound finances.


Since the move to Planful, budgeting time for the finance team has been reduced from up to five months to one month. That’s freed time for more forward-looking reporting, scenario planning and workforce planning against a unified data store, with data pulled from Oracle Lawson ERP, Ellucian Higher Education Management software and Workday payroll.

Though reporting is a work in progress, it’s already addressing executive requests for more financial and operational insights.

“Planful really allows us to slice and dice data a lot faster,” Chaffin said. “Before with Excel, I’d have to go into multiple systems to find information and combine templates in Excel. With Planful, I can get the information I need with one or two clicks.”

Additional benefits include:

• Empowering budget owners. Department heads have more hands-on control with budgeting moved from Excel to Planful. That spares finance from making educated guesses, and promotes collaboration atop an easy-to-use platform.

“I think overall the budget owners find Planful very user-friendly and we’re very happy with that,” Osika said.

• Better decision-making. With rolling forecasts updated once a month and rich reporting, the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences is well equipped to make informed decisions. Those can range from tuition increases or fine-tuning workforce headcount to whether to roll out a new program.

"We’re able to do more analytical work we didn’t have time for in the past because everything was so manual. Planful is allowing us to be more future-looking, which we couldn’t do before."

Melissa Osika, Senior Accountant

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