February 2, 2021 - Preliminary Working Group Reports
Dear members of the Whitman community,
I am writing today to share the results of several months of work by our three Financial Sustainability Review working groups.
I wanted to thank all those who participated in this process so far and all of those who will provide us with valuable feedback moving forward. This work comes at a time when everyone on campus is working extremely hard. There is no question that this year has been one of the most challenging we have faced as a campus community. We are being asked to rethink almost every aspect of our lives in response to the worldwide pandemic. Many of us are doing that while simultaneously working, studying, being separated from our support systems, trying to homeschool children who are out of school, and caring for other family members. I want to acknowledge how hard times are right now and my wish for us all to be compassionate and thoughtful as we move forward to solve the challenges we face now and the challenges that are on the horizon.
What to keep in mind while reading the reports
As you read these reports, I hope you will think about our overall goal of achieving a sustainable financial footing for the college in support of our liberal arts mission. This work included identifying both areas for efficiencies and savings as well as areas for new investments. Please read this entire memo as a reminder of why we undertook this work, what our goals were and the criteria the groups used for review. This is important background before reading the working group reports.
Have decisions already been made?
Attached to this email you will find the preliminary reports from those groups. I want to again emphasize that these reports are preliminary. The next step is to solicit feedback from the community for two weeks before the reports are finalized by March 1. (Links to the opportunities to offer feedback can be found at the end of this memo.) The Cabinet and I will then review the final reports and make our recommendations to the Board of Trustees. The Board will be the final decision makers in this process.
How did we get here?
Even before the arrival of the COVID pandemic, Whitman was facing significant challenges, along with most of the colleges in our sector. We have a declining population of 18-year-olds nationally (which we’ve all been reading about for years), a drop in interest in the type of education offered in liberal arts colleges, an applicant pool with greater financial need (the number of applicants to Whitman with an expected family contribution below $10,000 per year has doubled since 2016), and increasing price sensitivity among those most able to pay for this education. Add COVID to the mix, and we have to expect even greater financial need along with a reluctance to go to college very far from home. The much smaller first-year class that enrolled this fall will be with us for at least the next four years, and at the end of that four-year period, we will be at the precipice of the demographic cliff in terms of 18-year-olds in the population.
What do we need to accomplish?
It is important to note that we are not facing a crisis at this time, largely because of the careful management of the college over the years and our ability to plan thoughtfully for the future. Still, faculty and staff are appropriately concerned about when the retirement and pay cuts from last summer will be restored. We need to be concerned about restoring our non-personnel budget cuts, as well. And we need to be able to support a robust financial aid budget so that this education remains accessible to our students from a variety of backgrounds. Our budget model for fiscal 2022 includes restoring salary cuts and retirement contributions, along with some of our non-personnel cuts, but it comes with at least a $3.5 million deficit at this time. This financial sustainability review was necessary to help us determine which programs that we currently have require additional investments to continue to be successful, which will be fine just as they are, which need to be transformed to be more meaningful to today’s students and which should be closed. At the same time, we need to better understand the needs and wants of the current generation of students and consider creating new programs that will help us achieve our enrollment goals. Given the timeline under which the groups were working, many of the areas identified for potential investment will require further study. Appropriate campus groups will launch that work later this spring and into the summer.
Goals for the work
Our goals for this work were to:
- reduce overall spending by approximately $3.5 million for the fiscal 2022 budget year;
- develop efficient management of resources throughout the college;
- develop and support programs (curricular and co-curricular) that build enrollment and revenue; and
- develop and support programs that support Whitman’s liberal arts mission and are connected to our strategic priorities.
Criteria used by working groups
The criteria the working groups used for review were:
- centrality to Whitman’s liberal arts mission;
- ability to drive enrollment;
- ability to drive revenue; and
- connection to our strategic priorities.
Who served on the working groups?
The three working groups – focused on academic areas/support, student support, and administrative units – were co-chaired by a member of the Cabinet and a member of the Board of Trustees and included faculty, staff, students and trustees. They worked independently to identify both savings and areas for investment, so you will likely see some overlap across the reports.
After this period of community feedback, the Cabinet will review all three reports and then provide the reports and the Cabinet’s recommendations to the Board.
How can I provide feedback?
Next week, we have scheduled open forums for faculty, staff and students to comment on and ask questions about the reports. The original links you received for these forums assumed a webinar format, and we have decided instead to use a regular Zoom meeting format. Those of you who already registered for the forums have been moved over to the new meetings. If you have not yet registered, you need to do so, and please use the new links below:
- Faculty (Friday, February 12, 4-5pm) Registration Link
- Staff (Friday, February 12, noon-1pm): Registration Link
- Students (Tuesday, February 9, 5-6pm): Registration Link
In addition to the open forums described above, you have the opportunity to provide written feedback for the working groups through Monday, February 15. The online forms are located here:
I want to again thank the members of the working groups for their very thoughtful contributions to this effort, and I encourage you to recognize that they approached their work in good faith and with the best interests of the college at heart.
I’ll look forward to hearing your feedback.
President Kathy Murray