Presidential Update - Feb. 27, 2019

February 27, 2019
Griffin Gazette

On February 14, 2019, the board of trustees took up an agenda that included consideration of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019–20. The proposed budget, developed over months by the Priorities and Planning Committee and President’s Cabinet, was determined to be the best way to balance our budget over the next two years without depleting our reserves. To provide some context, our undergraduate enrollment now is about the same as it was 10 years ago, at approximately 2,000 students. During 2010–12, we experienced a spike in enrollment, which resulted in hiring additional staff and faculty. Over the subsequent years, our undergraduate student enrollment numbers returned to prior levels, though at a significantly higher discount rate; however, the staff and faculty numbers overall continued to grow. Changes in student demand for graduate and professional programs also affected the college. Although the college has held financial reserves in anticipation of a budget shortfall, our sustainability depends on bringing back into balance the staff and faculty personnel relative to student enrollment and revenue.

After considerable discussion, the board of trustees unanimously approved the budget as submitted. The budget assumes a reduction in our salary pool based on position eliminations that have already occurred, cancellation of some very low-enrolled courses next year, and work-load adjustments for faculty, which will shift some of the time allotted for administration, research, and other activities back to classroom instruction. The budget also temporarily sets the college’s retirement contribution for all employees to 3% for two years beginning July 1, with increases back to the retirement contribution and additional compensation scheduled in 2021–22 and beyond. These reductions were determined to be the best way to balance our budget over the next two years without making further cuts to people or programs. Should the college increase revenues beyond anticipation and in advance of the proposed budget schedule, restoring retirement contributions and increasing compensation will be the college’s highest priorities.

The board also discussed, and supported, an accelerated retirement option for eligible faculty.  This program will be modeled on our existing, optional phased-retirement plan for faculty and is consistent with their employment structure of renewable, multi-year contracts; however, this option will only be offered this year, during March 2019. Additional details of the program will be forthcoming during the next week, and both I and Interim Provost Richard Badenhausen will be available for questions on March 1, at 8:00 a.m., and 3:00 p.m., in Malouf 201.

The success of these strategies will depend upon the ongoing work of our community to create the best possible learning environments for our students and the most efficient and effective use of our resources. Over the next six months, we will be gathering additional data regarding student needs, demographic shifts, employment trends, and higher education competitors; I will talk more about these initiatives in the coming months. I appreciate the spirit of collaboration and commitment among our staff and faculty that has, and continues to, energize our efforts. We are tackling our challenges urgently, intelligently, and in a way that will not only improve the sustainability of the college but will also position us to be an increasingly vital part of the higher education landscape.

Beth Dobkin