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What is a Bursar? A Guide for Business Managers

A bursar manages an institution’s financials, usually in a college or university setting. In most cases, they manage student billing and handle petty cash as it comes in for fees. The role of a bursar requires strict confidentiality and a high level of personal security.Learn more about what a bursar is, including the difference between a bursar and a financial aid advisor, best practices for bursars and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the role.

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What is a bursar?

A bursar is a financial administrator within a school or university setting. Their specific role involves managing student billing. Students go to the bursar office to pay bills or set up a plan to do so. Bursars also advise students of late payments, help them set up payment plans and keep detailed records.

Financial aid advisor vs. bursar

While the definition of a bursar and a financial aid advisor seem similar, they do have different roles. Financial aid advisors help students and their families understand the cost of tuition and guide them through the application process. They also advise on the available loan options and determine a solution unique for each situation. Alternatively, bursars focus more on the actual handling of money and financial transactions. Any fees paid to the school, such as for tuition or residential fees, go to the bursar.

Working environment

Bursars usually work in office environments. There is very little physical effort or risk involved during average daily activities. Most work is conducted on a computer, managing books and recording new payments made by students. Bursars may handle petty cash in some circumstances and are responsible for the safekeeping of all paper money. Depending on the layout of the institution, they’re often inside or near the offices of the registrar or financial aid.

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Best practices for bursars

Some of the best practices for bursars include:

  • Create a regular routine
  • Store minimal cash within your office
  • Test for counterfeits
  • Use cash automation technology
  • Train regularly
  • Practice dual custody

Create a regular routine

Develop a regular routine for cash handling procedures that all bursars or supporting staff are familiar with. Keeping a structure for these procedures limits the possibility of losing cash or records of cash. For example, you might balance current transactions at the start of the day and make physical deposits at the end of the shift. Having managers on-site to monitor the flow of cash between shifts may also be beneficial.

Store minimal cash within your office

Although keeping petty cash is a requirement of the job, it’s safest to only keep a minimal amount. The more petty cash you have on hand, the more at risk you become for theft or general disorganization. If you receive a large amount of petty cash within a shift, either deposit it right away or establish a secure area for safekeeping until you can make a deposit. If possible, assign another bursar or member of the office staff to make the deposit on busy days.

Test for counterfeits

Some of the most popular bills people carry are also the most counterfeited. Both you and your staff members should be trained on proper counterfeit testing and test all paper money received the moment it comes into your possession. Identifying counterfeit money becomes more difficult as methods for doing so improve. Some offices invest in their own counterfeit testing devices that manage the job for them.

Use cash automation technology

There are many devices and machines that help keep petty cash secure while on-site. They also increase the accuracy and speed of counting and recording money. Investing in these technologies provides ease of mind as well as a higher-performing work environment.

Train regularly

Introducing new routines or technologies requires consistent training and further improvement. When it comes to handling money transactions, accuracy is a necessity. All staff members who handle these transactions should be trained regularly for efficiency in their work.

Practice dual custody

Dual custody occurs when two individuals hold responsibility for checking each other. This reduces the risk of loss and helps overall money management. A single individual might make mistakes, but having two or more within the same department to check significantly reduces the chances of their occurrence.

Related:Onboarding Best Practices

Bursar FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding bursars:

  • What other responsibilities do bursars hold?
  • Who manages bursars?
  • What are the qualifications for becoming a bursar?
  • Where does the term come from?

What other responsibilities do bursars hold?

Some duties and responsibilities change depending on the educational institution. However, bursars can also update account information, manage online student portals, manage Greek memberships and fees and address some tax season questions regarding billing.

Who manages bursars?

Bursars are often managed by individuals known as comptrollers. A comptroller is a manager responsible for supervising the overall quality of accounting and financial reporting. In this case, they handle the logistics of student finances as it pertains to the financial health of the full institution. In some cases, both bursars and comptrollers report to the director or vice president of finance.

What are the qualifications for becoming a bursar?

When seeking a bursar for your institution, consider those with at least a four-year degree in accounting, business administration or a related field. Candidates with three or more years of experience in similar roles involving money transactions might sometimes take precedence over those with only education. In most circumstances, ensure that budget management experience is an absolute requirement for all candidates, even if they only handle student transactions.

Where does the term come from?

As an uncommon term in the English language, bursar derives from the medieval Latin term, “bursarius,” meaning “purse” or “coin purse.” Over time, the name evolved to represent those in treasury positions or those who manage the financials of a business. In the modern age, however, the role is predominantly seen only in educational institutions, representing those who manage both the school’s finances and those of students. Some institutions combine the role with that of a registrar and name it as such.

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