Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Notes on how the economic downturn has improved a college.

The following reflection is excerpted from the May "Notes from the President," a monthly e-mail release from president Jo Young Switzer of Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind.:

"Our academic year began with the arrival of the largest first-year class in 25 years. It ends during a global economic downturn that is affecting students’ families, our endowment, and our budget, as well as the job market for our new graduates.

"Like other colleges and universities, we are reducing spending in anticipation of an extended recovery. We do so strategically, however, because our goal is to emerge from this setback stronger and as mission-driven as we have always been.

"How has the downturn improved the college? Faculty and staff are collaborating more than ever as we explore new methods and ventures. We are collaborating with other colleges to reduce costs by sharing services. We are doing without non-essentials. We are entertaining fresh ideas with open minds

"These ‘opportunities’ do not come without pain. We have chilled hiring--limiting new hires to the most essential positions that support strategic priorities, such as admissions. We are trying to reduce all operational budgets (not salaries or benefits) by 10 percent for next year. We are restricting travel and professional development for the short term. We are delaying capital purchases.

"None of these are choices between good and bad options. All of our options are important and valuable. Moreover, these are not all reductions that we can sustain. They are, however, necessary now to build cash reserves for a slow recovery.

"Some of our strategic goals are on hold because we simply cannot afford them on the schedule we had planned. For example, we have a priority to improve salaries for full professors, the faculty rank where our average salary is significantly lower than comparable colleges. We also have a priority to increase faculty salaries overall. But our commitment to provide financial aid to students who need it competes with faculty salaries. As students’ families become even needier with unemployment continuing to rise, Manchester College’s dollars are stretched even further.

"Hearing the truth spoken respectfully is a real gift. During the many budget meetings this year, hearing the truth has been invaluable, even when the truth wasn’t pleasant.

"So why am I smiling when I come to work each morning? Manchester College has a clear sense of mission. We know our top commitment is to open doors of learning to students from a wide range of family backgrounds.... Good learning is happening each day.

"We will emerge from this current economic crisis with a strong mission, smart and student-centered faculty, and students whose lives are transformed by their time here."

Source: 6/17/2009 Newsline

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