By: Sandy Pfeiffer
In my September report I described how changes in the economy might affect the college. Although I’m confident Warren Wilson will thrive in the years ahead, I now have a better idea of the steps we must take to ensure that it does. After addressing some general fiscal challenges, this report mentions some recent decisions that will enhance our mission while still responding to new budgetary pressures.
OUR RESPONSE TO ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
Virtually every college and university—small, large, rich, not-so-rich—has been making adjustments to respond to startling changes in the economy. Many of these changes will prove to be long-term, not just a reaction to the immediate crisis.
In our case, for example, even though our Fall 2009 applications appear to be fairly strong and our endowment has suffered less than that of many schools, we must plan carefully so we can (a) maintain financial aid to attract the best students during times when family resources will be strained, (b) be prepared for unpredictable costs associated with maintaining our facilities, (c) continue to develop our academic programs, and (d) keep future tuition increases as low as possible. Although a 6.75% increase in next year’s tuition will help our balance sheet, we can’t count on future increases of that size if we are to keep costs affordable. We must manage our budget with extraordinary care and make decisions that prepare us for whatever comes our way.
The greatest single expense at any college comprises personnel costs, and Warren Wilson is no exception. To reduce such costs, we must think more carefully than ever before about adding new positions and filling current positions when people move on. Special attention will be given to interim and temporary positions, some of which will go unfilled (with an example cited later in this report). Yet some employees will need to be added in areas that are essential to the future of the college, such as in Advancement and Academics.
This year we’re completing an Advancement Office hiring plan that began two years ago. Now this office will be poised to raise more funds for the college in the decades ahead. Given the state of the economy, it’s more important than ever that we have a robust Advancement office that pursues all possible opportunities.
Besides adding fund-raising positions over the last year, we recently agreed to purchase a new database that will bring our entire Advancement operation up to the level of colleges that have needs and aspirations as ambitious as our own. Along with the Board of Trustees, I’m convinced we must provide Advancement with the technical support to generate a larger endowment and annual fund for the college. I should add that a large part of the cost of our new database will be covered by a generous gift from one of our trustees, who believes this tool will enhance our fund-raising success.
As with Advancement, we must continue to strengthen our academic division in spite of the tight budget. Although we know students choose Wilson because of its unique blend of academics, work, and service, we also know they expect challenging academic programs that prepare them for fulfilling careers. And solid academic programs rely on full-time faculty, in addition to excellent adjuncts. Therefore, I’ve approved five new full-time faculty for next fall, which will result in a dramatic increase in full-time faculty from 65 to 70. These new positions will be in Global Studies (1), Theatre (1), Music (1), and Art (2). A significant portion of the cost is being covered by careful management of the academic budget and by funds currently used for part-time positions. I’m pleased that we’ll be able to support growing student interest in degree programs in the arts and global studies.
In addition to new faculty lines, Academics will be enhanced by various steps being taken by Paula Garrett, our new vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college. For example, Paula and her colleagues are ensuring that release time from teaching will be scrutinized more carefully than ever before, teaching loads will be equalized, class sizes will be economically sustainable, course offerings will be planned so that students can take courses they need and want to graduate, and professional development for faculty will be increased. New funds for professional development are intended to support scholarship that improves teaching and related research—and there will be clear guidelines and expectations to ensure this outcome.
Student Life is another area that has required decisions with budgetary impact for the coming year. I’m sorry to report that we are losing Marilyn Eichman, who as office assistant has been a valuable resource to the college. She is retiring as a long-time volunteer and will have to be replaced by a full-time employee. Indeed, we’ve made similar budgetary adjustments in other areas, both because volunteers left and because federal regulations have forced us to revise our volunteer program.
A second personnel decision for next year will result in the college absorbing the cost of the RISE program, previously covered by a federal grant that was not renewed. Having considered the need for this program, I’ve determined that the advocacy services provided by RISE should be continued next year. But this continuation was possible only by expanding the duties of the RISE coordinator, adjusting the contract dates, and using funds from various campus budgets. Specifically, the college will support the RISE project with a full-time position, with the following changes: the coordinator will be reduced to a 10-month position (with benefits), teach two regular courses during the academic year (thus producing savings for the Academic Affairs budget), provide substance abuse training to staff, and provide various types of training to work crew supervisors, as well as supervise a work crew (thus justifying using some funds from the Work Program budget).
Our Service Learning office also will have changes for next year. Franklin Tate recently submitted an excellent Program Review with recommendations to strengthen service learning at the college. It’s clear we need to direct more resources toward local service projects and forge more relationships between service and academics. To increase the service-academics connection—and, in the process, to save money by redirecting funds from a vacant senior administrative position to staff support—the current deanship will remain unfilled for the time being. Franklin Tate, currently interim dean, will be promoted from his regular position as assistant dean of service learning to a new position of associate dean of service learning, reporting directly to the dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs, Paula Garrett.
In this new and closer relationship between Academic Affairs and Service Learning, Paula and Franklin will be charged with integrating service into Academics to a level to which we aspire. Assisting them in this effort to integrate Service Learning with Academics will be our two Social Work faculty members, Lucy Lawrence and Ali Climo. The changes in Service Learning may involve other possible personnel changes, as needs are determined.
The net result of all changes in Service Learning will be a program with enhanced connections to Academics and the local community. That said, the program will maintain its commitment to developing projects for students and work crew supervisors. The full constellation of successful Service Learning programs will aim to provide the college with added recruiting tools for the future.
OTHER BUDGET INFORMATION
Although there are staffing needs in other units of the College, only absolutely essential positions will be filled during this period of economic uncertainty. For example, there will be no additions to Admission and Marketing, the Work Program Office, or the Environmental Leadership Center for next year. In the Administration and Finance area, however, there may be several changes to cover critical functions.
In addition to personnel, we need to plan for other expenditures such as building inspections and maintenance costs. More financial aid may be another compelling need once we know our fall enrollment. Also, a decision has not yet been made about the salary raise pool, but I can tell you that the raise differential between faculty and staff that has existed for several years will end. Finally, I should make clear that all budget decisions are tentative until we have more information about next year’s enrollment.
These are unprecedented times. And if you believe some of the experts, we’re not even halfway through an economic cycle that could keep unpleasant surprises coming our way. You may have heard about colleges that have taken more drastic measures than we’ve taken thus far: freezing salaries, reducing total numbers of staff and/or faculty, requiring time off without pay, cutting operating budgets, increasing teaching loads, eliminating all raises, and more. Fortunately, our adjustments have been much more modest up to this point. But my belief is that we must take action now that shows we’re using funds wisely, making it less likely more severe measures will be needed later.
Like you, I have a rock-solid belief in the future of this college. Our distinctive mission is the envy of schools around the country. We will continue to do well if we work together as a community, stay focused on what we do best for students, and have a vision for our college that drives every decision.