Sustaining the Quality of Our Education

To the Saint Mary's College community,

In his State of the College address last week, Brother President Ronald Gallagher reminded us of the core values of our mission, with a particular emphasis on the experience that we create for students. Our distinctive Saint Mary's education inspires all that we do, informed by the Catholic intellectual and liberal arts tradition, carried out in our Lasallian approach to education, and committed to the unconstrained search for truth.

At the same time, sustaining the quality of our education is expensive, and our tuition is increasingly out of reach for most families. More students than ever express a desire to attend Saint Mary's College; undergraduate applications are at record levels, and the academic quality of potential students has improved. But today's students have greater financial need, and as a result fewer are likely to enroll. Falling incomes, savings, retirement accounts and home equity mean that most families simply can't afford as much for a Saint Mary's education. Net tuition revenue per student has fallen by 13 percent from its high in 2007, resulting in a cumulative decline of over $6 million. Families who are turning to us from public institutions are concerned about increased student loan debt levels and have difficulty closing the tuition gap between a public and private education, even if it takes less time to complete a degree. Government aid programs continue to be threatened. Our endowment has begun to recover, but the losses of the last two years will result in reduced operating funds for the next several years. Graduate program enrollments are relatively steady but are not anticipated to grow substantially. The reductions we make now must reflect our new financial realities and be based on decisions about what we can no longer afford to do without compromising our academic distinction and the success of our students.

The entire College has been affected in ways such as reductions in retirement and health benefits. We have renegotiated contracts, delayed purchases, cut discretionary spending, eliminated open positions and reduced course reassignments for faculty, but there is no way to generate the extent of savings necessary without affecting the employment of some staff and faculty. Further across-the-board reductions merely postpone necessary additional strategic decisions about the level of service we can afford to provide, distribute hardship inequitably and foster resentment. So, we have attempted to limit the impact of reductions across campus and have relied on the recommendations of department chairs, directors, deans and vice presidents as we consider permanent reductions. As the president announced, notifications of positions being reduced or eliminated should be completed by March 19. In total, fewer than 5 percent of all employees, faculty and staff are likely to be directly affected. Of our 46 adjunct faculty positions, eight will be reduced or eliminated. We have reduced or eliminated 10 percent of course reassignments and adjusted the workload calculations in select academic programs, effectively increasing faculty workload for many. We have raised average class size from 20 to 20.5, eliminating 26 courses for a savings of approximately $200,000. At the same time, we continue to fill those vacant positions which are central to preserving the educational integrity of the College.

Numbers such as these can obscure the personal pain caused by our reductions. Every person affected has made significant and lasting contributions to the College. In past weeks I have heard testimony about four different adjunct faculty members, each having created lifelong connections to students and exemplified the mission of the College. The loss of faculty and staff creates ripples of anguish throughout our community; while students graduate, those who have worked alongside departing faculty and staff experience a diminished quality of life as their cherished colleagues move on.

As Brother Ronald indicated, we have much for which we can be thankful and proud. Students increasingly recognize the strength and attractiveness of our academic programs, student success is improving, faculty scholarship and artistic achievements are garnering national and international attention, our leadership in service continues to receive national recognition, our international partnerships are growing, and our academic planning is poised to culminate in a strategic plan and vision later this spring. Attendance at Campus of Difference workshops remains strong, and the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence is bringing additional energy to programming and assessment that will help us live our mission of dignity and respect for all persons. We must accomplish these things in slightly different ways, and without the benefit of some who, for many years, have contributed to this work. As we move forward, let us do so with gratitude, patience, and compassion.


Beth Dobkin