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Budget Transparency

Kudos to Williams for being transparent to faculty/students/staff/alumni about its plans for budget cutting. Consider:

Williams Budget Adjustment Summary (PDF)

Williams Budget Adjustment Presentation (PDF)

Fascinating stuff. My comments below:

1) My mistake! Those documents are for Swarthmore, not Williams. (Thanks for HWC for the links. The subterfuge was my idea.)

2) is Williams planning to be as transparent as Swarthmore? I hope so. The College made a big deal of the activities of the Ad Hoc Committee on Budget Priorities last spring. Did it ever issue a report? If not, does it plan on doing so? (I will e-mail Professor Bradburd and ask him.)

3) Recall our informative discussion of budget cutting possibilities from last spring.

4) Williams should be as transparent as any other leading liberal arts college in budget issues, as in all other things. I don’t demand (most days!) that Williams tell me more than Swarthmore tells its alumni. I demand that it tell me at least as much.

5) Do we have any readers that were at the November Faculty Meeting? The Record reported:

According to Lenhart, the October Board meeting is usually dedicated in part to a revision of the current year’s budget and discussion of the budget for the coming two years. “The net impact of all revisions this year was modest and the revised budget was approved,” Lenhart said.

Why not make that budget public?

At last week’s faculty meeting, Lenhart broached several options for bridging the spending gap, including reevaluations of faculty compensation, faculty benefits, the College’s commitments to loan-free financial aid packages, need-blind aid for internationals and spending on sustainability and the Williamstown community.

Did Lenhart have a written presentation at the meeting? Were handouts distributed to the faculty? All that information should be made public. The more transparent that Williams is, the more successful it will be.

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#1 Comment By jeffz On November 20, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

The minute I see “kudos to Williams” or some variation thereof in any DK post, I just assume at this point it will be followed by a misdirection link.

#2 Comment By rory On November 20, 2009 @ 5:05 pm

unbelievable in how predictable that was.

#3 Comment By hwc On November 20, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

Hey, I’m just chuckling over the use of the phrase “budget adjustment” for “cut”. It makes it sound so painless.

#4 Comment By frank uible On November 20, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

David, may I rifle through your personal files on the basis that the more transparent they are the more successful you will be?

#5 Comment By hwc On November 20, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

In fairness to Williams, Swarthmore is not being completely transparent. The Financial Planning Group (FPG) actually came up with proposals for $15 million in cuts (the figure it seemed might be in place at the bottom of the market last March). From this $15 million, they are presenting an $8 million subset of cuts as requested by the board in light of stronger than anticipated endowment year end endowment performance. Students asked to see the full $15 million package and were told that the committee has no plans to reveal the additional $7 million in cuts.

Now that the students are finally engaged in the budget realities (financial aid was the light switch), the College is now having to “sell” the proposals (or at least explain them) to students, starting with a series of meetings and down halls this week as described in this excellent Daily Gazette article today:

The 8 Million Dollar Question

This town hall featured the Acting Dean of the College, the Dean of Admissions/Finanacial Aid, the Financial Aid director, and the Facilities Manager.

An explanation of the proposed financial aid cuts:

The proposed cut that is by far the most controversial among students, however, is to financial aid: the FPG recommended a 2.1% reduction in financial aid, which amounts to $457,000. This would certainly not come from the scholarship component—SFAP members indicated that the College is not about to revoke its policy of meeting full student need—but it might come from an increase in the expected term-time or summer-time contributions for students, or possibly through reintroduction of loans.
Bock also pointed out that the reduction is only 2.1%, while financial aid has increased by 30% in the last two years, due to increased need. “I don’t know of anything else at Swarthmore that’s increased by 30% in these two years,” he said.

In terms of student contributions, Bock said that Swarthmore has “some of the lowest self-help and work expectations of all of [its] peer group.” Raising those expectations could be a significant boon to the budget: going from an expectation of 7.5 hours per week to 10 would fill the full gap, while a hike in the expected summer contribution could also help meet the proposed budget cut. Reinstating some loans in financial aid packages could also bring in a significant amount; as the program costed $1.7 million annually, it would not need to be a full reversion to pre-2007 levels of loans to save enough money to meet the cut demands.

Bock admitted that all of these options have serious consequences attached to them. “It’s what keeps me up at night,” he said. “Since it’s harder to find work now than ever before, how can we raise the summer component?” he asked.

I can only imagine what it’s like in the financial planning sessions at schools (unlike Swarthmore and Williams) where the magnitude of the required cuts involves shriking the faculty or ending need-blind admissions.

It also makes me chuckle a bit thinking about the reaction to some of David’s hypothetical cuts to $200,000 programs and how even implementing ten of those would barely put a dent in the systemic cuts that have to be made.

#6 Comment By JG On November 20, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

Do you have to act like such a baby? At the very least, you could perhaps not mislabel the links while doing your childish (and boringly repetitive) schtick. Some people will see those, click on them without reading your obnoxious commentary, and then never come back to EphBlog. Actually, that might be ok. Nevermind.

#7 Comment By Anonymous student On November 21, 2009 @ 1:10 am

Your first quoted passage is clearly in reference to the trustees’ meeting, not the faculty meeting. As for the faculty meeting, I’m fairly certain those are not on the record.

When budget cuts have direct noticeable impacts on student life, the admin is more than transparent. That seems like all we can ask for.

#8 Comment By David On November 21, 2009 @ 9:56 am

As for the faculty meeting, I’m fairly certain those are not on the record.

Depends on what you mean by “on the record.” Reporters from the Record are allowed to attend and report on what happens. That’s how they know what topics were “broached.”

I do not think they are allowed to report specific quotes.

#9 Comment By kthomas On November 21, 2009 @ 10:11 am

Depends on what you mean by “on the record.” Reporters from the Record are allowed to attend and report on what happens. That’s how they know what topics were “broached.”

I do not think they are allowed to report specific quotes.

Allowed? By whom? Where is this written? Transparency? Censorship? (Trains)?

The problem I saw twenty years ago was that Record reporters at the time would almost– amerhh, mea culpa if I’m engaging in this blog’s odd voyeuristic tendency to turn current campus life into a replay– almost always print quotes on important issues, which the person quoted did not quite remember saying.

The two ways to solve that are a tape recorder and calling the source to confirm or question your interpretation of what they said.

Mea culpa as well, if I am replaying certain other questions raised on this blog.

#10 Comment By patrick On November 21, 2009 @ 10:45 am

hwc: on Swarthmore’s fin aid proposal, which is applicable to Williams’ choices — how does a need blind school achieve a -2% fin aid budget when it has increased 30% the past two years, and with comp fee going up for sure, it will need to go up to just keep pace for past classes?

Will all the averted increases and this decrease come from increases in work study and intro of loans? Doesn’t seem possible to remain need blind without some games.

#11 Comment By hwc On November 21, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

Patrick, see my first post above. Swarthmore is proposing an increase in the expected student contribution in the aid package through some combination of:

a) increasing work-study hours from 7.5 to 10 per week

b) increasing expected summer earnings

c) re-instating loans for a subset of financial aid recepients. 30% of financial aid student were always no-loan at Swarthmore. Adding the remaining 70% to the no-loan status cost the college $1.7 million last year. They are now looking to reduce the aid budget by $457,000. The faculty is raising the reasonable question: why should we cut programs when we aren’t even asking aid students from families making $200,000 to take out one red cent in student loans? Everyone knows that going “no-loan” was a middle-class price cut (merit aid for hoity-toity schools).

#12 Comment By hwc On November 21, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

BTW, I’m not disputing the 30% increase in financial aid, but that includes increases to offset higher tuition. Net student revenues increased or at least remained level. I think it’s important to be a bit sceptical when these guys start throwing around numbers like that.

The $8 million in cuts are relative to the projected out-year budgets. They take into account assumptions about increases in revenues and expenses.