Dear Members of the Saint Mary's College Community,
One of the primary tasks for our board of Trustees at its annual January meeting is review, discussion and approval of budget assumptions for the upcoming fiscal year. The board’s typically thoughtful and thorough consideration of the budget developed by our College Budget Committee and endorsed by me was complicated last week by the wholly unexpected decision of Governor Brown just days earlier to include a significant cut to Cal Grants for students at independent colleges in his 2012-2013 budget proposal. Current estimates indicate that, if implemented, the governor’s budget proposal would result in Saint Mary’s students receiving approximately $2.7 million less in Cal Grant aid next academic year. Although clearly hoping that lobbying efforts by independent colleges statewide will restore these desperately needed funds for our students, the board needed to examine the College’s major budget assumptions in light of this development and, in particular, develop contingency plans for Saint Mary’s student aid support should some or all of the cut be enacted.
Another major topic for the board was consideration of the newly developed faculty and staff salary policies. The board’s Educational Session provided me, Provost Beth Dobkin and Vice President Pete Michell the opportunity to brief the board on the historical context, strategic objectives and market forces that had been considered in creation of the policies. Subsequent discussion by board members indicated appreciation for the collaborative and constructive efforts of the many in the Saint Mary’s community who contributed to the policies’ creation and strong support for their adoption. It was also clear that the board recognized the importance of these policies in attracting and retaining the faculty and staff members needed to support the high-quality educational experience at the College. I am pleased to report that the board voted to endorse the new faculty and staff salary policies. I especially appreciate their willingness to support these policies in this volatile and uncertain economic environment.
The 2012-2013 budget assumptions adopted by the board include the following:
1. Stable undergraduate enrollment of 2,818, including 750 new undergraduate students. This enrollment goal reflects a recognition that the capacity of our academic and non-academic facilities are challenged at the current undergraduate enrollment level.
2. Undergraduate tuition and room and board rate increases of 3.5 percent.
3. An increase in non-athletic financial aid of 6.4 percent ($2,188,000) and a new student discount rate of 34 percent. In addition, the board established a $2.1 million student aid reserve to be utilized for support of students impacted by Cal Grant cuts.
4. Increases of 3.0 percent to both the faculty and staff salary pools. Recognizing that these amounts were not sufficient to implement the faculty and staff salary policies as recommended by the president and College Budget Committee and the strategic importance of their timely implementation, the board directed the College administration to develop a financial plan to support implementation under current circumstances. The unfortunate financial uncertainty injected into the environment by the governor’s proposal to cut Cal Grants impelled this decision.
In approving the tuition and room and board rate increase, the board took into account the current economic climate and legitimate concerns about rising tuition and student loan debt voiced nationally and here at Saint Mary’s. Their commitment to a significant increase in institutional financial aid and the creation of a student aid contingency in the event of Cal Grant cutbacks are concrete evidence of their sensitivity to the financial situation of our students and their families. One trustee who sits on several college boards expressed admiration and surprise at the College’s ability to quickly develop a Cal Grant student aid contingency of this magnitude. At the same time, the board recognized the need to modestly raise tuition in order to fund needed faculty and staff salaries so as to have the resources to maintain the impressive quality of the Saint Mary’s educational experience.
Already our colleagues in the Office of College Communications and at the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities are in the midst of developing and deploying lobbying efforts to maintain Cal Grant funding at its current level. In the days and weeks ahead, you’ll be hearing more from me, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Vice President for College Communications Michael Beseda, Community and Government Relations Director Tim Farley and Assistant Vice President for College Communications Elizabeth Smith about these critically important initiatives. Your contribution to these efforts is much needed and will be deeply appreciated by the affected students.
I remain grateful to our College Budget Committee, whose continued hard work and collaborative spirit will be needed as we move ahead. And I continue to be thankful for our talented and committed staff and faculty members, whose ongoing dedication to our shared mission of education have been and will continue to be our greatest asset.
Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC