LC Faces a Projected Four Million Dollar Deficit

A group being intimidated by anthropomorphic dollar bills in suits. Illustration by Charlotte French.

In the 2019-2020 school year, Lewis & Clark expects to make 2.5 percent less in tuition revenue, and will have to pay a projected 3 percent more in costs. The budget shortfall leaves LC with a four million dollar deficit. Facing the graduation of an exceptionally large senior class, often referred to as “Classzilla,” the college is expected to have 100 fewer students next year, and the absence of that tuition revenue places the college in a difficult financial situation.

In response to these issues, LC has been revising its budget and placing more emphasis on attracting and retaining students. In an email statement to the Pioneer Log, President Wim Wiewel addressed the current plans.

“We’re addressing short-term budget challenges and devising long-term solutions at the same time,” Wiewel said via email. “In every case, we are focused on making careful decisions that protect the experiences of our students. We’re also hard at work to improve recruitment and retention through program innovation and development.”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier said that LC’s budget is determined by the prior year’s enrollment numbers. Since there are projected to be 100 fewer students in the 2019-2020 school year, the budget is facing serious cuts.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work – consulting with departments and offices across campus, doing lots and lots of financial analysis – but we fully expect to submit a balanced budget to the Board of Trustees this May,” Suttmeier said via email. “The budget for 2019-20 is approved by the Board (of Trustees) in early May, so it must be completed and circulated to them by mid-April.”

Working in collaboration with administration, the faculty led Budget Advisory Committee (BAC) helps provide the expertise needed to make informed decisions regarding the budget.

According to the LC website, the BAC’s role is to “review and inform the faculty about budgetary policies, procedures and trends of the College; recommend policy and procedure pertaining to the budget to the Dean of the College and the President; and, as appropriate, advise the Dean of the College on non-personnel budget expenditures in the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Professor Joel Martinez, At-Large Representative for the BAC, said that there are two main areas that will face cuts: Overseas and Off-Campus programs and future visitor/adjunct hires. Recently, LC announced that the Border Studies program run through Earlham College had been cut.

“So there have been some decisions … about overseas trips that either aren’t going to (happen) or less (sic) students will go,” Martinez said. “Then (they are) decisions about adjuncts and visitor hires. A large number of departments plan every year to have certain courses taught by visitors or adjuncts. These are people that are on short term, maybe a one-year contract.”

When it comes to visitor and adjunct professors who are already employed at LC, Martinez said that they could also face changes to their schedules.

“Then there are people who are currently here who are adjuncts, who will get fewer classes,” Martinez said. “I don’t know of any that are actually not going to get any, but that’s a possibility.”

When discussing what changes need to be made to LC’s budget, Suttmeier noted that the administration’s focus is offering the best experience to students.

“The most important consideration in all budgetary decisions is maintaining the quality of the education and experiences we provide to students,” Suttmeier said. “That is front and center in all of our discussions.”

With that focus in mind, the BAC has requested data from the administration in the future to see how these changes affect the student body .

In searching for solutions, LC has decided to focus on Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) to help counteract the budgetary shortfalls. SEM aims to stabilize enrollment numbers through assessing what is most attractive to potential students, and what keeps current students enrolled at LC.

In the Feb. 5 faculty meeting, Suttmeier said that, LC’s retention rates could use improvement, and that for schools like LC, these rates often depend on the school’s endowment.

“Retention rates for many of our peer and aspirant schools are higher than ours, so what we’re dealing with is not just a trend for liberal arts colleges across the board,” Suttmeier said. “Lots of smaller schools are struggling, also community colleges. But the biggest predictor of retention is the size of the endowment and whether or not you can support students.”

Suttmeier noted that SEM aims to help LC’s financial situation in the long run and attracting more students will help the college perform better in the future.

“The 2019-2020 budget involves planning for one year, but SEM is planning for the future of the College,” Suttmeier said.

Additionally, Suttmeier explained that while the administration predicted an issue with a large class graduating, there are additional trends and changes that impact a college’s budget that are difficult to foresee.

“We do long-term and short-term budget planning,” Suttmeier said. “The long-term planning looks ahead five years, but the farther out you go, the more speculative your projections become.We’ve always known the big senior class would graduate in 2019 and we’ve anticipated that day. But many things you can’t plan for as far in advance as you’d like, and so each year, you update the five-year plan and try to make your projections more accurate.”

Long term, Suttmeier noted that current trends leave small liberal arts colleges facing difficult financial situations, and that LC needs to take part in changing the narrative in a way that characterizes liberal arts education as invaluable in the current environment.

“In the long term, higher education in general, and liberal arts colleges in particular, are facing demographic challenges and a less-than-healthy national political climate,” Suttmeier said. “We need to convince a sometimes skeptical public that the education provided by liberal arts – exploring the complexity of the larger world – is the best education for the future.”

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