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Improved financial outlook enables College to avoid layoffs

Pointing at a number of ways in which the College’s financial outlook has improved, President Glotzbach has announced that no non-voluntary reductions in force among the College’s full-time employees will be necessary to achieve a balanced budget in the new fiscal year beginning June 1.

Financial Concerns Dominate Freshman Attitudes

Financial concerns, from paying for college to job prospects, dominated the new-student experience in 2009, according to an annual survey on freshman attitudes, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

About two-thirds of freshmen said they were either somewhat or very worried about their ability to finance their college educations. Those citing “some” concerns about money increased about two percentage points, to 55.4 percent, while students citing “major” concerns remained at 11.3 percent, about the same as in 2008. The effects of the economic downturn were spread across the college experience, whether the issue was how to pay for college or what majors and eventual careers to pursue.

Students as ‘Customers’?

Two recent stories in The New York Times about business schools have some relevance to the discussion on this page about Skidmore and about liberal arts colleges generally.

The first is a debate over whether to view enrollees in business schools as “customers.”  The treatment of students as customers is “not about grades or unrealistic expectations; it is about a new paradigm of shared governance,” notes David Bejou, dean of the School of Business and Economics at the Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina.

Throughout history there have been only three patronage systems: church, state and private philanthropy,” adds Mark C. Taylor, chairman of the religion department at Columbia University. “All three have broken down, and we need to find new ways to finance higher education. To deny that higher education is a product and students are customers is to ignore the reality of the current situation and to duck the tough questions we should be asking.”

The second focuses on what used to be a “radical idea” in business educators that students “needed to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting.”

“Learning how to think critically — how to imaginatively frame questions and consider multiple perspectives — has historically been associated with a liberal arts education, not a business school curriculum, so this change represents something of a tectonic shift for business school leaders,” writes Lane Wallace.

[Note: To access these articles, you may need to log into The New York Times site.]

Is College Affordable?

Fifty-eight private colleges now charge more than $50,000 annually in tuition and fees — up from just five in 2008-9, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. With tuition and fees at $51,196, Skidmore comes in at  16th on the list, but just $1,171 separates it from the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, which — charging $50,025 — is last on the list.

“The $50,000 price point might be merely a psychological milestone—after all, the cost of living is going up all the time,” reports the team of three Chronicle writers who researched the story. “But in recent years, the cost of a college education, which is often equated with social, economic, and cultural advancement, has grown at a much faster rate than have the prices of other goods and services. Some critics fear that if costs go much higher, more and more families will feel priced out.”

The story goes on to point out that many students receive need-based grants—often from the colleges themselves—or merit-based scholarships and other discounts. Analyzing College Board data to calculate the average grant offered in 2008-9 by 42 colleges whose list price for tuition, fees, room, and board was more than $50,000 this year, the Chronicle determined that the average bill last year for tuition, fees, room, and board, after grants, was about $36,000.

Our commitment to affordability at Skidmore is significant.  The average bill is about $37,700 after taking into consideration the nearly $35 million in institutional, private, state and federal grants received by our students.  The vast majority of that figure is Skidmore general need-based and endowed grants money.  We are paying attention to levels of student indebtedness too.  We believe in the “self-help” component of a financial aid award- moderate student loans and jobs on campus which help families with expenses.  The average student who borrows leaves Skidmore with a student loan debt of approximately $16,000, below the national average for both private and public colleges/universities.

Beth Post-Lundquist is Skidmore’s director of financial aid.

More on Student Aid and College Pricing

This is a difficult time for students and families who are paying for college with diminished savings and incomes and with concerns for the future. It is also a difficult time for colleges – including Skidmore – that are struggling to maintain both the quality of the educational experience they offer and pricing and student aid structures that assure access. It is vital both that we successfully communicate the value of the liberal arts education and the personal learning environment we provide and that we maintain our strong commitment to need-based financial aid.

The reports on student aid and college pricing that I recently authored for the College Board provide some insights into the financing picture from a national perspective. You can find summaries of these reports and a lot of relevant information on the College Board’s Web site.

Sandy Baum, professor emeritus of economics, is a senior policy analyst at the College Board.

Our Discussion Continues …

Welcome to the Your Voice, Our Future blog.  Over the coming weeks, we will be adding posts that continue the conversations taking place at our town hall meetings, drawing upon the expertise of the town hall panelists and others.  You and other members of our community will then have an opportunity to comment on those postings and to add your voice to the conversation as we all work together to help the College move forward during these very difficult and challenging economic times.

President Philip A. Glotzbach and a panel that included (from left to right) Skidmore economist Sandy Baum, alumnus Joshua Boyce, M.D. '81, entrepreneur and Skidmore parent John William Poduska, Sr. and Skidmore history professor Erica Bastress-Dukeheart launched the 'Your Voice, Our Future' series in Boston October 5. The series continued in Hartford October 6.

President Philip A. Glotzbach and a panel that included (from left to right) Skidmore economist Sandy Baum, alumnus Joshua Boyce, M.D. '81, entrepreneur and Skidmore parent John William Poduska, Sr. and Skidmore history professor Erica Bastress-Dukeheart launched the 'Your Voice, Our Future' series in Boston October 5.

As a first posting to the blog, I want to take an opportunity to expand upon my answer to one of our young alumni in Boston regarding the budget cuts that we are instituting on campus.  As you may recall from other notes I have issued to our community about these steps, they are a necessary response to the significant reduction in revenues that we have experienced as a result of the larger downturn in our economy.  (For more on this topic you can go to the economic challenge page on Skidmore’s Web site.)

By early next year, we will have eliminated more than $10 million in expenditures from our annual operating budget.  Most of these have come through reductions in staff and reduced investment in our physical plant.  We have also been able to realize savings through the good work of many on campus to reduce energy costs and streamline various operations ranging from shifting more communications from print to electronic format and reducing the use of our dining and catering staffs for campus events.

The young alumna’s question – and very legitimate concern – was how we could effect these reductions without a significant impact not only on the curricular but also on the co-curricular programs that were such an integral and enriching element of her experience. The answer is, in fact, many answers.  That is to say, we are now expecting, if you will, a much higher “return on investment” from all of our programs and searching harder than ever to identify the point at which we have invested enough to achieve the goals we have outlined for those programs.  Let me offer just three different examples:

Example 1.  One major decision point was the elimination of our longstanding UWW program.  This had been a very important part of the Skidmore story for nearly four decades, and we remain proud of the many wonderful students who earned their degrees through this program and the faculty and staff who have worked so hard over the years to deliver it.  Despite its many achievements, however, we believed we could no longer dedicate the resources needed to offer the program at the level that would meet the standard of a true “Skidmore” education–particularly at a moment in time when we must dedicate a higher proportion of those resources to our core mission of educating fulltime, residential students.

Example 2.  We have shifted the replacement cycle on most College-owned computers from four years to five.  Again, this should not impact the end user (and thereby diminish in some significant manner the experience for our students) but will save us a considerable amount each year in equipment purchases.

Example 3.  We have just increased the enrollment caps for the first-year seminars from 15 to 16.  Our sense is that this shift will not appreciably affect the experience for any one student but it saves us from having to offer three additional seminars.

The conversation continued in Hartford October 6 with a panel that included (seated from left to right) Skidmore financial aid director Beth Post-Lundquist, English professor Sarah Goodwin, and alumni Judy Kunisch '69 and Craig Poler '84.

The conversation continued in Hartford October 6 with a panel that included (seated from left to right) Skidmore financial aid director Beth Post-Lundquist, English professor Sarah Goodwin, and alumni Judy Kunisch '69 and Craig Poler '84.

There are, literally, hundreds of other decisions, large and small, that we have made over the past months, to help us achieve our goal.  Some, such as those noted above, we can continue with little or no impact on the core educational experience for our students.  Others, however, such as the salary freeze that we have instituted for this year and, we anticipate, for next, can only be viewed as temporary solutions as we wait for what we are projecting will be an eventual return to at least modest growth in the income we earn from our endowment and other sources.

We remain open to other thoughts and ideas to help us through this challenging period.  Our goal is to increase the value of a Skidmore education and to make certain that we remain a viable option for all deserving students, regardless of their financial means.  Your continued input and support will be critical to our success in achieving that goal.

Philip A. Glotzbach is president of Skidmore College.