With fluctuating student enrollment numbers, Westminster College administration has decided to make budget cuts to restore balance, according to President Beth Dobkin.
Budgets are continuously updated, but to balance Westminster’s budget for the next few years, faculty and staff are receiving benefit cuts from their retirement plans.
“The temporary reduction in retirement contributions by the college, as assessed by the Planning and Priorities Committee and President’s Cabinet, was determined to be the best way to balance our budget over the next two years without making indiscriminate cuts to people or programs,” said President Dobkin, in an email to The Forum.
The Planning and Priorities Committee is an advisory committee that includes faculty, staff and administrative representation. Those on the committee serve for a three-year period and help with budgetary decisions, said committee member and associate professor of accounting Jennifer Harrison.
“Change is stressful, and budget realignment and reductions affect everyone in some way,” President Dobkin said via email.
Harrison said faculty members can allot a specific amount of their pay to be put into their retirement plans and Westminster would match that amount. With the changes to the budget, the amount given to faculty members from the college is being cut by about 50 percent. Because faculty members can customize the amount they give, the new amounts given by the college will be different for each person.
Cid Seidelman, distinguished service professor of economics, said higher education institutions have a variety of revenue streams, which are monetary sources for the institution.
Those streams are typically in the forms of net tuition, auxiliary operations like student housing and unrestricted giving/donors. Those streams mixed with the institution’s expenses and operating costs can create an imbalance in the budget.
“Sometimes what happens is that institutions run into challenges where there’s a decrease in their revenue stream or there’s some significant increase in expenses,” Seidelman said. “That then leads to [budget challenges].”
Seidelman said budget challenges can result from decreased enrollment rates which President Dobkin said was a factor in these budget changes.
“We haven’t seen any significant increases in the number of high school students graduating [and] going to college,” Seidelman said. “That is a number that’s been decreasing steadily over many years.”
The National Center for Education Statistics reported undergraduate enrollment rates between 2010 and 2016 decreased by 7 percent or 1.2 million students.
President Dobkin said in an email that Westminster currently has an enrollment rate close to the rate from 10 years ago (around 2009). From around 2009 to 2011 Westminster experienced a spike in enrollment which resulted in hiring more staff and faculty. After that two year spike, Westminster’s enrollment rate began decreasing again which led to this budgetary challenge.
Although these budget cuts are not positive, President Dobkin said she’s received overall support with this difficult decision.
“I have greatly appreciated the honest and constructive feedback I have received from faculty and staff,” Dobkin said, in an email response. “They have expressed appreciation for the transparency of these conversations.”
Benefits cut from faculty and staff should be reinstated within five years but maybe faster if enrollment and other budgetary things change, Jennifer Harrison said.
“[Faculty and staff are] just hopeful that we’ve got good leadership in place to navigate these particular challenges,” Seidelman said. “Westminster has a very bright future.”