Campus / News / November 9, 2011

Faculty consider finances, classroom availability

The faculty convened Monday for its final meeting of the term, as Vice President for Finance Tom Axtell delivered a report on the college’s finances, and the Instructional Support Committee (ISC) proposed several ways to address the scarcity of classrooms at popular periods, namely third hour.

According to Axtell’s presentation, at the end of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the college’s endowment was the highest it had ever been, at $84 million. The bad news, he said, was that it took a major downturn almost immediately after.

Endowment spending was down to 5.3 percent last year, but the college has needed to use unrestricted bequests to balance the budget for six out of the last 12 years. There is $2.6 million in a reserve fund – the one most recently used when Old Main’s roof blew off a few years ago – but the current deficit is $2.8 million. The tuition rate has increased, but so has the discount rate, or the percentage of tuition revenue a college forgoes for grant-based aid.

Axtell then gave four possible financial scenarios for the college, based on several variables whose values have not been determined. Based on his experience, he believed that the college would end up in one of the two most favorable outcomes.

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schwartzman first asked about the impact of world economies, and second asked about retention, pointing out that all scenarios assume that all students will be retained.

To his first question, Axtell said that the models account for economic forces with possible values for the discount rate. To the second question, Axtell said that losing 50 students would be problematic.

The ISC invited the Director of Institutional Research Charles Clark to present his findings on classroom utilization. Unsurprisingly, the school is at capacity for third hour. The issue is not only that no classrooms are available at this time, but that some students cannot take desired courses because so many are co-scheduled.

One of the recommendations of the committee was for more classes to be scheduled for first hour. Predictably, many were opposed to this. Associate Professor of Economics Carol Scotton cited recent studies that show “it’s not a function of when they go to bed, but that young adults simply cannot function that early in the morning.”

Professor of Theatre Elizabeth Carlin-Metz counter-proposed that the whole day’s schedule be shifted back. To accommodate athletics, which traditionally begins at 4 p.m., she suggested practicing in the early morning.

One of the nine suggestions was increasing the length of the “s” periods, so that a Tuesday-Thursday class would have the same number of contact hours as a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class. This led to a brief discussion on contact hours and the value of a Knox credit.

For the record, Dean of the College Larry Breitborde said that there is no formal definition of a Knox credit relating to contact hours. Professor of History Michael Schneider suggested an overhaul of the schedule, rather than these specific fixes.

Professor of Economics and ISC chair Steve Cohn said that he could not rely on such an overhaul, which is why the committee proposed this “cut and paste method.”

Maxwell Galloway-Carson


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