For most on campus, the last weekend in April often represents T.G.I.S. and a last chance for recreation in the days leading up to finals week. However, for the decision-makers of the College, this weekend represents the April Board of Trustees meeting. Friday, April 24 was a time for committee meetings and smaller group discussion, which was then followed by the General Business Meeting on the morning of Saturday, April 25.
Generally, the most anticipated subject at April’s meeting was the status of tuition planning. To jog your memories, the Board of Trustees voted last January to reevaluate the structure of Elizabethtown College’s current tuition model. As a result of this mandate, a Tuition Planning Group was charged with preparing an extensive report of all the possible tuition model changes that could be made. This report is the first step in an extensive process that will continue into Trustees’ meetings in October and January. On Friday, the core members of the group presented their report along with five “driving principles” for the Trustees to consider, in order to establish a more focused direction for the group in the months to follow. These driving principles included transparency, net tuition revenue, enrollment management, student body profile and peer practices. After an in-depth presentation and heavy questioning, the conversations surrounding tuition planning extended into later committee meetings.
The result of these conversations came together in the form of a document meant to prioritize the different driving principles. Unfortunately, and I believe the Trustees echoed this confusion, it was difficult to discern which factors were true priorities. Despite all the research that has been completed thus far regarding alternative tuition models, many Trustees felt more information was necessary. Additionally, the need to discuss the implications these options would actually have at Etown was conveyed. I think it is difficult at this stage to ask the Board of Trustees to prioritize whether retention is more important than recruitment, or whether the College’s reliance on net tuition revenue should be changed, and, this was certainly shown through the discussion and questions raised.
The Board of Trustees also approved the budget plan for the next fiscal year. This budget is the result of 2.7 million dollars in budget cuts that occurred through salary freezes across the board for faculty and staff members, some position cuts and other cost-saving measures. The comprehensive fee for the 2014-15 academic year was set at $51,850, which represents a 4.24 percent increase from the past academic year. Along with this is an expected discount rate of 40 percent. This means that on average, Elizabethtown College students get a 40 percent “discount” on the sticker price (i.e. the average student pays 60 percent of $51,850, which is $31,110). As is typical with every annual budget, multiple safeguards were implemented in the case of another shortfall in enrollment. As of now, enrollment is still expected to meet the target of 510 first-year students for next fall.
Beyond the scope of the subjects of tuition planning and the budget, the Board of Trustees also affirmed several other topics. They affirmed their support for two new graduate programs — a four-plus-one masters degree in Public Policy and a graduate degree for education majors in curriculum and instruction. The Trustees also entertained discussion on the status of the enterprise risk management, an update on the fundraising campaign, and the recognition of SCPS Dean John Kokolus’ retirement. The Board also reelected its current officers for another year, including Chairman of the Board Dr. Robert Kerr. Lastly, the Board announced three new Trustees to their ranks, making for a total of 42 members on the Board.
In comparison to the strong contention surrounding the comprehensive fee increase that occurred at the January meeting, this meeting was more relaxed. With the exception of the status of tuition planning, the meeting went quickly and smoothly. However, do not take this lack of heated debate as a lack of commitment. Once again, I witnessed a strong commitment from the Trustees to learn about the College and how their decisions are affecting those in our campus community.
I speak mostly from personal experience, but I still believe the Trustees are looking for input from the campus community. Though not exactly applicable, the comparison to social contract comes to mind. A contract implies cooperation from both sides of an agreement. So, if the Trustees are striving to make educated decisions and have progressive dialogue, then the students, faculty and staff members of the College should also be willing to engage in those types of conversations to promote the same types of progress.
You could read this update, pull away the hard facts and hope there is enough information to make genuine inferences on the state of the College. Or, you could try to understand the context behind the votes conducted and the decisions made. I believe the latter is more beneficial in the long run. And, that context I’m talking about is the fact that the Trustees make the tough decisions, but have the well being of the College at the center of those decisions.