A campus conversation about Wheaton and the economy
Posted on January 22, 2009
While the concept of spring seems terribly distant at the moment, we are well and truly on our way to warmer weather and better days. The second semester always passes quickly, and the pace of activity this year promises to pick up soon.
This spring will bring many critical decision points for the college, all of them complicated by the national economic recession. The issues to be addressed include how to increase the financial aid dollars in our operational budget for the next academic year, the establishment of the 2009-2010 comprehensive fee and the timing of next steps for the science center building project. And that is a highly selective and incomplete list.
We will need the assistance of the entire campus to reach wise decisions on how to enhance Wheaton's strength in this challenging environment. With help from many members of the community, the President's Council has identified numerous spending reductions for 2009-2010 which may be critical to our success. In the coming weeks, I plan to spend time talking with students, faculty and staff about these proposals and soliciting still more suggestions.
While these are likely to be difficult and uncomfortable discussions, I am confident in our community's ability to rise to the occasion. The Wheaton tradition is one of realizing success in doing more with less and of creativity and agility in pursuit of our goals. We can take some satisfaction in Wheaton's financial stability. Our prudent management of resources, including the utilization of net tuition revenue, several years' successes in achieving enrollment targets and successes in fundraising have made significant contributions to our current fiscal strength. Add to this our minimal level of debt and wise allocation of endowed funds, we are in an overall healthy financial situation.
Nevertheless, the ongoing recession has already affected the college and will continue to do so. Wheaton's endowment has lost about 25 percent of its value since June 30, 2008; and fundraising progress has slowed considerably. Wheaton is not unique in this regard, of course. The last month has brought announcements from many other institutions about hiring freezes, salary freezes and more. Even now, the situation remains highly fluid. For example, it will be four months before we can accurately project the full extent of the demand for financial aid among current students as well as members of the Class of 2013.
Increasing resources for financial aid is one of our highest priorities. As the impact of this economic crisis spreads, we must prepare to allocate more of our budget to meet the increasing financial needs of our students and their families. At the same time, we are committed to investing in quality where it matters most. To me, this means recognizing that Wheaton's educational programs depend upon our faculty and staff.
These priorities--increasing financial aid and protecting people--will serve as guidelines for us as we move forward in considering cost reduction initiatives. It is our hope that these initiatives will serve to make Wheaton stronger, not only financially but also as a community.
Wheaton can and will weather this economic storm. Your active support and commitment will make an enormous difference, and I will be calling on all faculty, staff and students to contribute their best thinking and energy. I will be holding open office hours in the Presidents' House on Tuesday, Feb. 3 from 10 to 11 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 4 from 4 to 5 p.m., and Monday, February 16 from 8:30-10:00 a.m. for further discussion of these issues. I also plan to attend the first Student Government Association meeting of the semester. I look forward to working with you.
Thanks for all that you have done, and will do, to sustain Wheaton's distinctive and transformative teaching and learning community.