Former Pfeiffer president coauthors book on sustainable financial health

By Tina Underwood, for Furman University

As colleges and universities across the country face challenging times, one book “Colleges on the Brink: The Case for Financial Exigency,” serves to help universities avoid crises.

Chuck Ambrose is a former president of Pfeiffer University. (Contributed)

The very mention of financial exigency “is like a third rail — no one wants to touch it,” said the book’s coauthor, Chuck Ambrose, a senior consultant for higher education strategy with Husch Blackwell and member of Furman University’s board of trustees.

“We’re seeing an incredible response to the book, especially for the inside-the-institution tools and strategies we bring,” Ambrose, a Furman graduate, said.

Ambrose and Mike Nietzel, a regular contributor to Forbes, crafted the book with the backing of 25 years’ experience in higher education at public and private institutions. Among other roles, Ambrose served as a university president, chancellor and CEO at Pfeiffer University, University of Central Missouri, the Knowledgeworks Foundation and, most recently, Henderson State University. Nietzel is former president of Missouri State University and, prior to that, he was dean of the graduate school and provost at University of Kentucky.

Chuck Ambrose has coauthored a new book. (Contributed)

Ambrose said the challenges facing academia have been brewing for the last decade and a half.

“Since the 2008 recession and coming forward through the pandemic, structural budget deficits have become more acute,” Ambrose said. “COVID really tore the Band-Aid off” some lingering wounds, he said, noting a steady decline in enrollment, skyrocketing expenses due to inflation, labor costs and excessive capital expenditures.

The book offers colleges and universities a “roadmap to move through a storm and get to the other side, to create a sustainable future,” Ambrose said.

“Higher education is one of the most resilient, significant social industries. This is one of those inflection points where the level, the depth and breadth of change, is hard for people. So this is relevant to not only what our current state is in higher education, but how do we create a future state that actually works for students,” he added.

Ambrose said part of the motivation for penning the book was his wife, Furman golf standout Kristen Allen.

“She’s been an encouraging thought partner along the way.”

Coauthor Nietzel is a “keen observer and great writer,” said Ambrose, whose partnership goes back to their Missouri days when Nietzel served as special policy advisor to the governor.

Ambrose stepped up to lead the exigency process at Henderson State University, part of the Arkansas State University system.

“It was as close to closure as you’ll ever see for a public four-year,” he said.

Now on the road to recovery, HSU averted certain closure.

“It was a perfect institution to assert those tools we talk about in the book, where we show not only the strategy, but the type of leadership it takes to make change happen,” Ambrose said.

“I believe we all know that college is worth it. We just have to figure out how to deliver it in a way that meets the needs of the people we serve out into the future.”