To employ an old adage: there was some good news and some bad news.
Faculty and staff from all corners of the university filed into McIntyre during their lunch hour on Monday, Nov. 18 to hear about the fiscal direction of the university, courtesy of the Strategic Planning and Budget Committee, led by Provost Frederick Bonato.
On the positive side, the university seems poised to complete the 2019 fiscal year with a budget surplus of about $168,000, thanks largely to “compensation savings and [reductions in] pension plan costs,” according to Bonato’s powerpoint presentation.
The university also saw a record 60 percent graduation rate, as well as over $10 million in federal grants and a 50 percent increase in international students over the last three years. Combined, these indicate that the university shows the potential for a promising future.
On the other hand, the committee’s projections for the 2020 fiscal year anticipate a budget deficit of about $3,880,000. According to the Provost, this is exacerbated by three factors:
“Higher education is under fire,” according to Bonato, leaving potential future students questioning whether going through the trouble of earning a baccalaureate degree is worth the cost.
A national demographic shift resulting in fewer high school age students, which has led to lower overall enrollment; universities, in turn, bear the cost of that decline.
Public institutions are offering greater discounts to new students which increases market competition for enrollment.
The administration has several plans to address the impending deficit. The short-term plan is twofold: an overall 5 percent reduction in department budgets, although that is not a uniform 5 percent across all departments, coupled with a temporary hiring freeze. Together, they anticipate this will save approximately $950,000.
In the long-term, Bonato introduced a multi-year strategy to reduce the deficit, including a new enrollment strategy to attract new students, the development of alternate revenue sources such as rentals of campus buildings and summer camps, and “overall expense reductions” aimed at stretching the dollars the university already has.
Then, Virginia Bender, Ph. D, Vice-chair of the committee and Special Assistant to the President for Planning, gave an update on the “Pathways to Distinction” strategic plan. This model, initiated in 2015, concludes in 2020 following a regular 5-year cycle and outlines the university’s direction in terms of mission, curriculum et cetera.
Despite “challenging news regarding finances and enrollment,” said Bender, “Pathways to Distinction [has a] focus on graduating students, and that’s where we have made a lot of progress.”
She supported this with promising numbers regarding increasing four-year graduation and retention rates, which the university continues to try to improve.
Finally, the floor was opened to questions and both Bender and Bonato responded to professors’ and staff members’ concerns. They concluded in time for a dismissal just short of the 1 p.m. class hour.