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Work In Progress - December 6

  • Monday, Dec 7, 2015

End of semester events                               

With the semester winding down, we enter the time of year when there are a number of campus-wide and departmental events. I won’t attempt to cover all of the events on the schedule the next few weeks, but I do want to draw your attention to a few celebrations:

  • The Christmas Tree lighting will be held in the Predolin Commons at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, December 9, followed by a reception in the Wingra Commons.
  • The faculty and staff holiday party will be held on Monday, December 14 in Washburn Heritage Room from 4:00-6:00 p.m.
  • Commencement Day will be Sunday, December 20. The day will begin with liturgy at 10:30 in St. Joseph Chapel, followed by brunch at Phil’s and then the Commencement ceremony at 2 p.m. Please note that Commencement will be held at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. I look forward to seeing many of you at this special celebration of student achievement! Commencement details are available online as well

Good news

I’m pleased to share with you a few pieces of good news that reflect the quality of the educational experience and the work of faculty and staff with members of the higher education and philanthropic communities:

  • The College recently received news of a seven-figure estate gift that will be designated for global education. We are grateful that the donor is not waiting to begin her generosity, making an $80,000 pledge over the next four years to support this essential component of creating more opportunities for students and faculty for engaged learning.
  • The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education has granted to the Henry Predolin School of Nursing full initial accreditation for five years, the longest term possible, for the Doctor of Nursing Practice—with no compliance concerns! Special congratulations to Dean Margaret Noreuil and Nursing colleagues who invested considerable time and energy in this process.
  • In more School of Nursing news…the Helen Daniels Bader Fund approved a $42,000 grant in support of a collaborative project among Wisconsin schools of nursing to improve education in the care of older adults and people with dementia.
  • The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs has granted reaffirmation of accreditation to the School of Business. Special thanks to Patricia Hallinan, who coordinated preparation for this visit, and Interim Dean Amy Gannon!

Budget process and status

As I mentioned at the November College Assembly and in my last Work in Progress, both the Planning & Budget Committee and the Cabinet continue their work on reconciling operating budgets for 2016-17. While we work to reverse a declining enrollment trend, we must budget with the assumption that the situation will not turn immediately. With our very high level of tuition dependency, having fewer students results in declining revenues and a requirement for fewer course offerings and out-of-classroom services. As those of you who follow outlets like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed are aware, Edgewood College is far from alone in this experience.

Some folks have asked about the size of the projected shortfall. It seems like that should be a straightforward answer, but in fact it is heavily contingent on a number of assumptions—from student enrollment and tuition levels to the pool for salary increase and expected inflationary increases in areas like benefits, utilities, and technology. That said…with the current set of assumptions, we need to pursue approximately $2.1 million for 2016-17 in revenue increases, expense reductions, and (where possible) assumption modifications.

I would like to add a few important points:

  • That estimate would both cover the projected deficit resulting from enrollment declines and a reserve that would allow for a shortfall the size of the one we experienced in 2015-16. We do not anticipate that; neither, however, did we anticipate the current year’s shortfall….which explains one important reason we must account for that possibility.
  • We are working not to simply come up with one-year solutions—instead, our target is to begin working toward resolving the currently projected $2.9 million target for 2018-19. (To be clear, that does not represent an additional $2.9 million—many steps we would pursue for 2016-17 would impact the subsequent years as well.) As I’ve expressed before, we must expand our budgeting timeline, and that expansion begins during this process.
  • The size of that projected deficit requires pursuing deeper steps than we’ve needed in the past. On the expense side, I am asking all of us to consider what we can do differently. For example, we will need to look carefully at the number of faculty and staff needed to deliver the kind of educational experience we promise our students, in addition to reviewing operating budgets as we’ve done in recent years. As a result, we will be carefully considering every vacancy that comes up to determine whether it must be filled, could be accommodated differently, or might be deferred. You may notice this beginning to happen right now, since decisions we make now have impact moving forward.
  • While working on expense management is an important and necessary step, it is not the only one.  We must at the same time invest resources in areas that can contribute to building a stronger financial foundation both in the short- and long-term. For that reason, we are investing—through the Transformation Fund, not annual operating budgets--in Advancement efforts to increase philanthropic support. I expect to receive shortly a proposal for an investment in recruitment, an area where we have actually reduced expenditures in recent years. Both of these are steps we will pursue to build the revenue side of the equation, which I expect will contribute to generating the resources needed to continue delivering on our promise and become even stronger moving forward.
  • Finally, and most importantly, the goal of this budget process is not simply to reconcile an anticipated deficit. A focus that narrow takes our eyes off what is really important--making sure that we deliver on the unique educational experience our students expect, articulating and delivering on our promise to the communities we serve, and doing so in a way that is financially responsible in both the short- and long-term. We do need to look for ways to be more efficient and effective; at the same time, we must also build for the future and continue pursuing initiatives already underway. And, as always, we’ll do that work together.

Adult Education Update

Earlier this semester, I announced creation of a task force to study the quality of the learning experience for returning adult undergraduates. The College’s interest in serving returning adults is not new—in fact, the Weekend Degree program began in 1979, followed by the introduction of adult accelerated programs in 2002. These programs, and the graduate programs that similarly meet the needs of adult students who seek master’s or doctoral degrees, are therefore an important part of our heritage and Mission. In addition, these offerings contribute to College’s financial model; we anticipate that accelerated programs will generate approximately $3 million in 2016-17, while graduate programs generate over $7 million.

The Returning Adult Student Study Group has organized itself into four study groups to advance work around this important topic (listed below); they will be bringing forth recommendations based on their findings:

  1. understanding current student demographics to understand who they are, what they bring, and what they are seeking;
  2. understanding the current student experience and its relationship to our program offerings and quality;
  3. evaluating our marketing and recruitment efforts, with an eye toward ensuring we're communicating the right message about our programs to the right audiences; and
  4. clarifying the expenses and revenues associated with our RAAD programs. The results of these studies will lead to recommendations for action regarding service returning adult undergraduate students, in general, and accelerated degree programs more specifically.

A final note

The end of the semester, combined with the arrival of the holiday season and (at some point?) winter, is a challenging time for everyone. Those of us who have been on college campuses for a number of years are accustomed to that. Some of our students, though, may be less familiar with the stresses that confluence of events can bring. One of the best features of our learning community is that we care about our students and about each other. Please be sure to keep an eye open for students who could use a little extra care as finals week approaches…and know that I am grateful for the work each of you do to provide a supportive, challenging, inclusive learning environment to all of our students.

I hope to see you at one or more of our upcoming holiday celebrations!