Wall Street and Main Street aren’t the only places dealing with the affects of a spiraling economy. College campuses across the country have to make tough decisions as they plan the next fiscal year with tightening credit, smaller endowment dividends to draw from, and what many predict will be a shrinking donor base.
Joining a staff assembly meeting in October, Bard College at Simon’s Rock Provost and Vice President Mary Marcy explained that while the College was not in economic danger, it is not insolated from the country’s economic woes. “I think of Simon’s Rock as that really hard working second generation family,” she said. “We’ll have to be very smart and conservative about our budget, but we’re going to be O.K.” She iterated familiar wisdoms Simon’s Rock will observe as it rides the wave: spend less, save more, and stick to a budget.
Like citizens, some colleges have suffered more than others. The degree to which campuses have been insolated from the downturn is often dependent on their investments, debt-to-revenue ratio, and fiscal management. In a dog-eat-dog financial climate, Simon’s Rock has several things stacked in its favor. “We’ve budgeted conservatively,” Marcy explained. “We have diversified our investments, maintained low debt, and have more revenue than predicted.”
The increased revenue, she says, is directly due to higher enrollment and student retention rates. Despite the jump, the College will slow some of its projects, like renewing the campus master plan, and cautiously evaluate new loans. “We have to be smart, creative, and we must remain within budget.”
Forecasting the potential for increased student need, the College has allocated more than half of the increased revenue for financial aid. “Simon’s Rock has a moral obligation to protect students that are here,” Marcy said. The remaining funds will cover the increased cost the College incurred when it enrolled, and was able to retain, more students.
Marcy is positive about the College’s financial footing. “Good decisions have been made,” she said. As an example, Marcy pointed to a decision that had Simon’s Rock bucking higher education investment trends when it failed to participate in the now struggling Commonfund.
While the campus is a business, its business is education—and this, Marcy said, is “a teachable moment.” In addition to planning more regular discussions around the economy, Marcy has invited the executive vice president of Bard College and president of the Levy Economics Institute, Dimitri Papadimitriou and other prominent economists to bring their perspective to campus during an economic panel discussion.