Weathering the Financial Storm

Dear Members of the Saint Mary's Community,

We ushered in the Advent and Christmas season with a moving liturgy last Sunday night in the College Chapel. The traditional liturgy of lights reminded our community that we are guided by the light of faith in both bright and dark periods of our life. At the end of a semester bright with accomplishments of students and faculty, we have also been challenged by a significant downturn in our local and global economy.

The College's financial condition remains healthy with strong enrollment for this year, healthy reserves for fiscal 2008–2009 challenges and progress on important facility projects continuing. You can find answers to frequently asked questions about the College's financial condition on my web page. I appreciate the efforts that the Cabinet, Budget Committee, other committees and areas of the College have already made to identify almost $2 million in savings for the current year.

We face the same uncertainties as most institutions of higher education. I imagine that you have seen the seemingly daily reports of prominent colleges and universities, many with multi-billion dollar endowments, announcing significant current or future budget cuts. In the current climate, it will not be possible for students and their families to afford tuition-rate or room-and-board expense increases anywhere near the trend of the recent past. At the same time, early indicators suggest that some prospective students and their families may be reluctant to even consider higher-priced private colleges and universities. Our Admissions Office reports that early action deadline (Nov. 15) applications for fall 2009 admission are approximately 20 percent lower than last year. Although it is too early to make any firm judgments about future enrollment, the current trend indicates that we should be very cautious about our planning. Some California independent colleges are reporting similar application declines.

The College's Budget Committee has been working diligently this fall to create a balanced and strategically focused budget plan for the next five years. It is now evident that all of the College's units will have to make significant sacrifices in the years ahead. I have asked Cabinet members to begin to identify budget-cut scenarios which support our strategic objectives and will position the College to take advantage of eventual economic recovery. The uncertainty for the year ahead will likely result in a modified budget approval process with only tuition, fee and aid levels being set at the January 2009 Trustees meeting. This will allow more time to develop budget contingency plans at 5 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent reduction levels.

During this difficult time, we will remain committed to institutional priorities such as enhancing our academic excellence, identifying more efficient and effective practices, maintaining momentum on key strategic initiatives, ensuring that the student experience is not compromised and keeping the College affordable for students. As an example of our ongoing commitment to academic excellence, I am pleased to report that I have accepted the sabbatical proposals recommended by the Provost and the Undergraduate Educational Policies Committee and the Graduate and Professional Studies Educational Policies Committee for the 2009–2010 academic year. We are also making progress on facilities renovation in academic areas, student residences and administrative spaces. A number of these tasks will be completed during the Christmas break.

For more than 145 years, Saint Mary's has weathered many storms. At this time of year, I am particularly grateful for the hard work of our exceptional faculty, staff and students. Your efforts incarnate the Founder's vision of educational excellence. I am confident, with the blessings of God's holy presence, that we will emerge even stronger from these challenging economic times.

My best wishes for a holy and Merry Christmas,

Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC