Saint Rose prepares to weather economic storm

The far-reaching effects of a what President Obama calls a "sick" economy have caused turmoil at many area colleges. Tuition hikes at University at Albany and the layoff of 98 employees at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) have many students at The College of Saint Rose concerned about their academic future.

Saint Rose President R. Mark Sullivan addressed these concerns in his opening remarks during a Presidents Day presentation on January 8, 2009.

"Even at a time when all of us in higher education are facing severe budget constraints, there are no constraints on thinking about implementing new ideas," Sullivan said.

Some of these new ideas include an inventive partial hiring freeze, the increase and restructuring of the student financial aid budget, and an agressive approach to new enrollment recruitment.

Saint Rose has not been as adversely affected by the economy as some other schools in the region. The majority of private colleges have an endowment fund. An endowment is like a savings account that is continually reinvested. Like the investment portfolios and 401k savings of many people across the country, the endowment funds of many colleges have lost money due to the poor economy. A January 14 article in The Business Review stated that the endowment fund at RPI had dropped by 20%, and Sullivan remarked in his Presidents Day speech that some colleges had lost over $10 billion.

While the Saint Rose endowment did take a hit of 18% last year, Saint Rose does not use any of its endowment for operational costs - unlike many other private colleges.

Instead, 97% of the operation budget at Saint Rose comes from enrollment-related income - otherwise known as tuition.

According to Sullivan, Saint Rose has met its enrollment goal for the spring 2009 semester and has exceeded its goals for transfer and graduate students for spring 2009.

In addition, Saint Rose has accepted about 200 more students than last year. The goal is to convert these accepted students into enrolled students to maintain the necessary amount of revenue.

"We believe in our heart of hearts that we provide a quality experience," Sullivan said. Sullivan also called upon students to "first and foremost be good ambassadors about Saint Rose."

Sullivan has set a goal to keep tuition increases this year below 5% - the lowest increase in four years. This, according to Sullivan, as well as an increased focus on helping students receive financial aid, will hopefully encourage students to enroll at Saint Rose.

The new Massry Center - as well as the addition of a new music major - seems to be having an effect on the number of applicants to The College. According to Justin Hadley, one of the assistant directors of undergraduate admissions, music applications have increased substantially.

"With regard to last year applications are up 20 to 25%," Hadley said. He also said that 24 applicants applied for the new general music major.

In addition to a focus on enrollment, Saint Rose has implemented policies meant to curb spending and conserve financial resources in order to prevent tuition increases and staff layoffs.

"In our budget planning for next year, we should do all that we can to preserve the jobs of current employees and prevent layoffs," Sullivan wrote in a memorandum sent to the Saint Rose community in October.

Saint Rose has enacted a unique partial hiring freeze in which vacant positions - with the exception of security and facilities positions - will not be filled. Saint Rose will continue to fill about 14 open tenure-track faculty position in order to provide the best educational experience possible for students and to remain competitive to applicants.

Saint Rose has also increased its financial aid budget by 11% and increased its focus on helping students find alternative loans to fund their education. Merit-based scholarships will continue to be a good chunk of the financial aid budget.

More financial aid options may come in 2010 for students. Govenor Paterson has proposed a New York Higher Education Loan Program (NYHELP) that would "provide access to student loans paid for through tax-exempt bonds," according to literature about the program. This would provide an alternative to students that have exhausted traditional loans and grants but wish to avoid the high interest rates associated with private loans.

Sullivan also said that budget concerns would not negatively affect many of the campus efforts in sustainability.

"We've made a lot of headway over the last year with the Envioronmental Club and we're going to continue to look at that," Sullivan said.

Saint Rose will also move forward with the Joe Plumeri Sports Complex and renovations of the old music building. Sullivan said that hopefully by the fall 2010 semester the Communications department will have a new home in that building.

Sullivan also expressed his desire for open communication with students about Saint Rose.

"I try to share everything I can with students," Sullivan said. "I want to be transparent about the troubles that we face, and also that we feel confident."

 © Copyright 2009 The Saint Rose Chronicle

Link to original article