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Trustees Discuss Finances, Future

Concerns over a tuition increase, budgeting, and the availability of scholarships dominated the conversation at the Board of Trustees’ second quarterly meeting of the academic year.

Held on Dec. 4 in the Glendening Annex, the meeting’s planned location in Washington DC was changed in an effort to save money, said senior Student Trustee Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall.

Molly Mahoney Matthews, Board Chair, opened the meeting by emphasizing the Board’s responsibility to maintain the “quality liberal arts education” provided by St. Mary’s, despite this being a “time of financial challenges” for the school, the state, and the nation.

President Joseph Urgo’s report similarly expressed concerns over the rising prices for education, both at St. Mary’s and around the country. He pointed out that “St. Mary’s is situated better than many” with its ability to control its own budget while receiving state support, and the effect this has is on keeping “our price lower than our peers without sacrificing the quality of the educational program.”

He added that there are ways the College is attempting to maintain this quality more sustainably, including an increased effort to raise funds from the private sector and, more specifically, alumni.
“We require investment by those…who find in our mission and accomplishments an endeavor worthy of their intellectual and financial support,” he said, adding that this support is merited through “the strength of our [educational, administrative, and fiscally responsible] operations.”

Maureen Silva, Vice President for Development, has been working to cultivate alumni and other donor relations “so that [in the future] private funds can be relied upon for College operations” in addition to state support, said Urgo.

“If those whom we’ve educated do not conclude that we merit their support, the argument cannot in good conscience be made to the state or to anyone else,” he added.
Ruthenberg-Marshall’s report as the Student Trustee echoed such financial concerns.

Despite knowing “the financial realities of [running] the College,” Ruthenberg-Marshall asked that the Board take student concerns into account when determining the tuition increase. He reported that students frequently approach him worried about how tuition increases might affect their ability to attend St. Mary’s.

“Traditionally, the second quarterly meeting would be when we vote on tuition changes,” he explained, but the vote was postponed until the next meeting. This was done to avoid raising tuition more than is necessary, since more must be learned about the College’s finances and its block grant from the state.

However, Ruthenberg-Marshall pointed out that some sort of tuition increase is inevitable.

Neil Irwin, ’00, Chair of the Committee for Enrollment and Student Affairs, discussed that the students who struggle the most when paying for college tend to be middle-income students who are ineligible for government grants, despite not coming from affluent families.

He also pointed out that rising costs could lead to losing top-tier students to institutions that are more expensive on paper but cost less due to larger financial aid packages.

Irwin referenced a presentation Wes Jordan, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, gave to the Enrollment and Student Affairs Committee previously on the rising costs of tuition.

Jordan pointed out that since the 2001-2002 academic year, tuition increased 85 percent for in-state students and 105 percent for out-of-state students.

The financial aid budget also increased in that time (from $1.8 million to $5.4 million), but the student population grew by 23 percent Cindy Broyles, ’79, Chair of the Development Committee, asked the trustees to consider a philanthropic commitment to St. Mary’s in order to “support retention of top students.”

She brought up the importance of giving regular contributions rather than occasional large gifts. Many grants that the College could apply take into account the percentage of Trustees who have made monetary contributions.

Last year, 83 percent of Trustees donated money, though Broyles set a challenge to meet 100 percent participation this year. At this point in the academic year, 43 percent of Trustees have made some sort of monetary contribution to the College.

Broyles also reported that an alumni phone-a-thon led to 54 percent of alumni contacted making commitments to the College, though more information was needed to see how alumni were selected to be contacted.

Alumni contributions during the phone-a-thon rose by 18% from last year, a good increase, said Broyles, since alumni contributions are also measured when the College applies for grants.

Despite the focus on tightened finances and fundraising, Matthews reported that the Board of Trustees approved a salary increase for tenure track assistant professors during their Executive Session earlier in the day.

The increase was necessary for faculty retention, said Matthews, considering that these professors’ salaries fell below the average salary of tenure-track professors at the College’s peer institutions. On the other hand, salaries for tenured professors at St. Mary’s are above the average of tenured faculty salaries at peer institutions.

According to Ruthenberg-Marshall, the raises will only add an additional $100,000 to the College’s budget.

At the meeting, the Board also approved to have Aaron Williams, Director of the Peace Corps, come to St. Mary’s as the Commencement Speaker for 2011. Robert Paul, Faculty Senate President, also reported that the faculty approved to recommend to Larry Vote, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, that St. Mary’s join the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) Consortium.

The continued relationship would ensure that St. Mary’s has five to ten slots available at CMRS, the College’s only Signature study abroad program in the United Kingdom.
The next General Session for the Board of Trustees will be held Feb. 26, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the Glendening Annex; it will be open to the public.

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