Faculty speaks on budget issues

By Peter Prendergast

As a result of declining donor support and diminishments in incoming class sizes, Trinity College has been operating at a budget deficit for the past two years.

Last week, Financial Affairs Committee (FAC) member, professor Gregory Smith, circulated a letter to the Trinity College faculty regarding the budget crisis.  In the letter, which was distributed prior to last week’s budget discussion led by the FAC, Smith highlighted the factors that have led to this crisis, and what avenues the administration may pursue to assuage the current financial situation.

“We have three main sources or revenue: draw on endowment, alumni giving, and tuition.  Only one is presently under our control,” wrote Smith.

Trinity currently draws on 5% of its endowment for annual spending, and between the years of 2009 and 2012, it has not grown.  “As far as there is no serious plan in place to grow the endowment,” said Smith. “At present, a prudent person would have no reason to expect increased revenue from the endowment.”

According to Smith, alumni donations have decreased considerably, in response to the Social Mandate of 2012.  Furthermore, the number of donors fell from 13,000 in 2011 to 8,000 currently, a near 40% decrease.   While annual donations have in the past few years, succeeded in reaching the projected 9 million dollars, Smith contends that this was only achieved through last minute support from Trustees.   “We have no plan to increase alumni satisfaction and energy,” wrote Smith.  He later insisted that people have stopped donating because they feel alienated from the school and are upset with the administration’s handling of the Greek system.

Tuition makes up the third source of revenue for the college.  Trinity’s most recent freshman class is about 50 students smaller than the number proposed by President Joanne Berger-Sweeny in last year’s budget report.  This disparity has resulted in a 5 million dollar loss in tuition revenues, which will continue for the next three years, until the class graduates in 2019.   

Smith also noted that application numbers themselves are down this year as well.

However, despite this loss of tuition revenues, the school has expressed a desire to pursue smaller class sizes in the future.  In October of 2015, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Success, Angel B. Perez told the Trinity Tripod, “One thing I have been trying to promote is bringing in smaller class sizes, to increase the academic quality of the applicant pool.”

If Trinity does decide to pursue a reduction in class sizes, there remain just two means of increasing revenue that the school can control: cuts to faculty and staff, and increasing tuition prices.  However, according to Smith, members of the faculty have been assured that no cuts will be made to the faculty, making increasing tuition the most probable step in reducing the deficit. “Tuitions will have to rise,” Smith contested.

According to a recent report from usnews.com, Trinity is currently the third most expensive private college in the country, behind only Vassar College and Sarah Lawrence College in tuition and fees.

If the goal is to decrease class sizes, increase the academic excellence of applicants and shrink the budget deficit, there are few viable options.  However, Smith points to the recently abandoned Summit Scholars program, as one possible way of earning back losses in revenue.  According to Smith, if we were to reinstate the scholarship, and hypothetically award 50 students with scholarships of $25,000 leaving them to each contribute $40,000 of their own, we could shrink our deficit by millions, and also induce the best students to apply.

The administration first addressed the budget issue in a November email in which President Berger-Sweeny explained that the issue was a result of this year’s unexpected incoming class size.  Mrs. Berger-Sweeny also detailed a number of expense reductions that the administration planned to implement including delaying the occupation of vacant staff positions, suspending equity adjustments for faculty and staff, scaling back special events, extending the replacement cycle for IT equipment and reducing printing costs wherever necessary.

The administration has offered few insights into Trinity’s budget issue since the November email.  Though, in a Feb. 8 email to the Trinity community, Berger-Sweeny addressed the problem.  “This year, we faced a very tight budget and looked for areas where we could realize savings,” wrote Berger-Sweeny.  “We trimmed budgets and are on track for a balanced budget in this fiscal year.”

Students however, have not been informed as to what actions the school has taken since to balance the budget.  Chairman of the Financial Affairs Committee, Christopher Hoag, declined to comment on the issue.

According to Berger-Sweeny, the administration has decided to delay releasing their budget for next year until  late April or May.  nonetheless,  all signs indicate that unless alumni donations or class sizes increase significantly, Trinity students can expect their tuition costs to do so instead.

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