Board of Trustees Meeting
March 5, 2009
Dear Fellow Scots:
As the Board of Trustees gathered on campus last week for their February meeting, much of our work and conversation focused, not surprisingly, on the continuing global economic turmoil, its impact on the College, and the steps we have taken and are taking to mitigate that impact.
The outlook for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, remains stable and we continue to project a balanced operating budget for this year. Student retention is holding steady, while the Wooster Fund is actually up slightly in both dollars given and the number of donors compared to last year.
Our endowment continues to perform well compared to our peers in a brutally challenging environment. While the endowment declined 17 percent for calendar year 2008, that result put us in the top five percent of colleges and universities nationwide. As the S&P 500 dropped another 8.4 percent in January, we eked out a slight gain, and it looks like we will be flat in February, compared to another six percent decline for the S&P.
Looking ahead to next fall, applications for admission to Wooster are up 5.5 percent, while most of our peers in the Great Lakes Colleges Association and Associated Colleges of the Midwest are down. The number of applicants who have filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is running 20 percent ahead of last year. Historically, filing a FAFSA is an indication of serious intent. Of course, it also suggests a larger fraction of the applicant pool feels the need for financial assistance. It’s likely that many returning students will have greater financial need as well.
We must balance against these relatively positive indicators, however, the fact that since my last communication to you, financial markets have extended their decline, unemployment is increasing, home prices continue to fall and foreclosures to rise; in short, the global economy has worsened significantly. It all adds up to a year in which forecasting final enrollment outcomes with any accuracy will be exceedingly difficult.
Given the degree of uncertainty we face on so many fronts for next year, the College has taken and will take a number of steps to position Wooster defensively, while still investing in our strategic priorities.
Many of these steps are already familiar to you.
We are reducing overall staff numbers by not refilling every position as it becomes vacant and will hire only 12 visiting faculty as leave replacements next fall, rather than replacing all 16 of those on leave one-for-one. We also will reduce the number of interns the College hires by 25 percent.
We are carefully reviewing auxiliary operations such as the golf course, the Ohio Light Opera, and the Wooster Inn, in order to significantly improve their financial performance.
We will close Kittredge dining hall next fall, shifting those who work there now to fill openings in Lowry. We know this change will put additional pressure on Lowry, especially at peak hours, and we are working to add seating capacity to address this.
Four small off-campus houses, which because of their size, location and construction are extremely inefficient to operate as program houses, will be converted to rental properties for visiting faculty.
We also will introduce differential room rates for the first time: students who desire a single will pay more than the standard rate for a double, while those in triples and quads will pay less. Wooster has long been an anomaly in charging a single rate for all rooms; almost no other college in the GLCA or the ACM does so, for example. This particular distinction is one we believe we can no longer afford to continue.
Finally, next year we will trim — modestly, reluctantly, and temporarily — our capital reinvestment in the campus.
At the same time that we are taking these steps, however, we shall continue to invest in our strategic priorities.
The renovation of Babcock Hall is on schedule and on budget. When it reopens in the fall, not only will one of our finest old residence halls be restored to its original beauty, it will provide a fitting home for the new Center for Diversity and Global Engagement, about which you will hear more in the coming months.
We continue to make steady, deliberate progress on developing plans for the new Campus Center. We have completed engineering studies of the site and an analysis of the project’s infrastructure needs. The architects have met with and interviewed more than 400 people on campus concerning programmatic options for the facility.
In times like these, the way forward is never a straight and smooth one. There is much we cannot know about where the global economy is heading. But the things that are in our power to affect are not insignificant, and with wisdom, good will, and above all a shared belief in the importance of our common endeavor here, we will steward the College and its mission through it all.