Reveley calls for new financial model

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October 21, 2010

11:50 PM

Finding new sources of income for the College of William and Mary is a pressing concern, according to a memo issued by College President Taylor Reveley Oct. 12.

In the memo, which addressed the deans and vice presidents of the College, Reveley announced an initiative to improve the College’s productivity in what he called difficult financial times.

“This century will belong to the schools that either already have or can build sustainable financial foundations,” Reveley said in the memo. “We need to build ours.”

The economic recession has not been kind to higher education, and funds are particularly short for public universities across the nation. Taxpayer support for the College has declined from 43 percent of the operating budget in 1979 to 14 percent in this fiscal year.

This trend is unlikely to reverse due to other demands of the state budget and Virginia’s tradition of low taxes. In the next fiscal year, state support will decrease even further to make up 12 percent of the College’s budget.

The reduction of state support has the College struggling to continue the practices that make it a highly ranked public university.

“One of the most defining characteristics of the College that makes it a ‘Public Ivy’ is the low student-teacher ratio. It is necessary, but it is expensive,” Vice President for Finance Sam Jones ’75 said.

Public universities that have larger student-teacher ratios can absorb massive budget cuts more easily. At the same time, the highly rankedprivate schools continue to receive enough funding to afford low student-teacher ratios, a wide variety of courses, competitive salaries and opportunities for research. Because the College has an Ivy-like approach to education but operates on state funding, it faces unique challenges in poor economic times.

Reveley outlined four main components of a strong financial foundation: taxpayer support, gains in earned income — which includes tuition and fees and research grants — more private donations and internal productivity gains. Reveley said that all of these interdependent aspects must be strengthened, but that internal productivity and efficiency would be his main focus.

All administrative departments and schools at the College must identify all productivity gains already realized in recent years, review their current practices, and determine how they can be improved or ended to make operations more effective and efficient by March 30.

“Through this planning, we hope to maintain a wide array of courses in small to medium-sized classes, further establish the College’s international reputation, increase opportunities for student-faculty research and strengthen alumni connections and giving,” Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Jim Golden said.

Academic areas were instructed to continue to provide high-quality student learning, reduce the overall cost of instruction and maintain student-faculty engagement.

“With the collaboration of the Faculty Chair Committee and the Dean’s Advisory Council, we are aspiring to expand differential allocation of effort [for example,] having professors who are not doing research teach more classes, and we are also evaluating our current business practices,” the College’s Dean of Arts and Sciences Carl Strikwerda said.

All of the College administrators expressed the hope that students would not be significantly impacted by the impending budget cuts or administrative rearrangement.

“Our goal is that students will not feel the changes very much, and that their experiences at the College will be consistent all four years,” Jones said.

He acknowledged that tuition would inevitably increase, but that any students who would qualify for financial need as a result would receive aid.

“We work very closely with the Office of Financial Aid so that we don’t lose any students,” Jones said.
Faculty and staff at the College will likely feel the changes more than the students.

There have been no salary increases in the past three years, which the College has been able to do because of similar situations throughout higher education.

However, the College will be watching and tracking the national economy closely.

“Once the job market in academia improves, we will increase salaries in order to keep the best people on our faculty,” Jones said.

Layoffs will be avoided as much as possible, while many positions will likely be eliminated. According to Jones, 35 positions were eliminated last year, but there were only four layoffs.

Tasks that may have required multiple positions will be fused into two or less.

As a result, individuals’ workloads may increase, but redundancy will be avoided.

Reveley cautioned that this process will not be easy, because the College already has many efficient practices in place.

However, he stressed that further improving productivity gains is necessary if the College is to remain a highly ranked institution in an uncertain economic future.

“I believe deeply that we have no viable alternative,” he said. “The issue is not whether to achieve these gains. The issue is how to do it well.”

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