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College Operating Budget Turns to ‘Razor-thin’ Surplus

In light of the recent economic downturn, the College has initiated a defensive budget strategy for fiscal year 2010 (FY10) and the future. Although it has not drastically changed from previous years, the new plan seeks to proactively increase the College’s revenue, and then spend that money as wisely as possible.

According to Chris True, the Assistant Vice President of Finance, in 2009 the College’s “operating fund turned in a razor thin surplus of approximately $79,000 on a cash basis. This was possible through the combined efforts of faculty and staff to minimize expenditures, strong enrollments which resulted in some excess revenue attainment in certain areas, and through the efforts of the Vice Presidents to reduce expenditure budgets in the latter half of the year.” While this is a success for the College, True explains that in FY10, the goal must be to “make up for reduced revenues due to instability in the financial markets.” One way the College intends to accomplish this is by incorporating $100,000 for contingency in addition to the usual $300,000 fund. Also, True notes that keeping “revenue assumptions conservative” is a good way to follow through on a defensive budget.

For students, it is important that the College maintain its financial aid and scholarship options. The major change we see this year is that “Foundation funded scholarships, which typically total approximately $700,000 per year were funded by the College.” Chris True also noted “this funding substitution is likely to be necessary for the next couple of years.” Because of this the Office of Financial Aid and the Business Offices have “implemented many online payment options” for students and parents, ultimately allowing for fewer staff in these areas. In terms of emergency funding, the Foundation has raised a total of $97,000, $35,500 of which were made available this fall. Students facing “unexpected financial difficulties” received anywhere from $100- $4000 in emergency finance aid grants.

The more defensive budget affects faculty as well. The College decided to implement “reduced service days rather than furloughs.” According to the Office of Finance, the impact for employees was “just over $204,000.” This means that, on a sliding scale, employees will take anywhere from 1-10 reduced service days between Christmas and New Year’s to avoid conflicts with classes. For example, salaries ranging from $50,000 to $99,000 salaries must take three days, and anything above $200,000 involves a 10-day salary reduction.

Hiring of staff for new and old positions is also a concern of the college in times of financial strain. Dr. Thomas Botzman, Vice President for Business and Finance reports, “Some positions, such as openings in public safety, will be filled immediately.  There may be few others that we fill based on review. However, given the tight budget moving forward these will be rare exceptions.”

Looking to the future, the Finance, Investment, and Audit Committee and the Board of Trustees established a Working Group on Revenue Planning and Forecasts. Charles Jackson, the Associate Vice President of Planning and Facilities explains that the goal of the working group is to establish a “holistic look at college finances.” College revenue sources range from state block grants and tuition to auxiliary services (housing, food, bookstore) and the endowment. In two phases, the working group will seek to take a closer look at the College’s short term and long term finances and inform the Trustee’s decisions. In what Jackson calls a “harder economic climate to raise money,” the Working Group has the potential to help the College’s financial system in a very positive way.

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