Mills College’s $3.5 million deficit hasn’t been completely closed, but President Alecia DeCoudreaux does not “anticipate additional layoffs,” she said at last week’s community meeting.
“The hard work of restructuring that we did in the fall is the work that was to be done and is all the work that we’re doing relative to restructuring,” DeCoudreaux said. “We said early on that we were going to roll up our sleeves and do really hard work one time, that we didn’t want to keep coming at this over and over again.”
The GSB Gathering Hall accommodated a packed house during Wednesday’s lunch hour as students, faculty and staff considered the administration’s budget and enrollment updates, along with a “mini course” in higher education finance.
“We’ve operated at a deficit for many, many years,” DeCoudreaux said, “but we can’t continue doing that. So we have to continue doing our work. That includes looking for additional ways to be efficient. It also includes looking for ways to increase our revenues. Obviously, we’re very tuition dependent, and therefore enrollment is one of the primary ways in which we increase our revenues.”
Students’ tuition dollars are the largest source of revenue for the College. The second is housing, according to Jamie Nickel, Interim Vice President for Finance. Together, tuition and housing account for 70 percent of the College’s revenue.
Nickel gave a basic rundown of the College’s $86.2 million operating budget from 2010-2011. Because of the enrollment dip between fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the budget has come up $3.2 million short in tuition and housing. Nickel also reported that the investment market crashed in 2009, and the value of the College’s endowments — another revenue source — dropped 33 percent.
The College has looked for ways to cut costs, like staff furloughs, faculty salary reductions and the December layoffs. The President’s Cabinet has also taken salary reductions and furloughs. Nickel added, “The president has given up her vacation.”
On the increasing revenue side, Vice Provost Andrew Workman shared the Enrollment Management Task Force’s work since September. With help from outside consultants, the task force focuses on effectively coordinating all facets of enrollment across departments — “which for undergraduates is a multi-tiered process beginning not quite in the cradle but at least when students are (high school) sophomores, all the way through admissions, packaging for financial aid and when they actually come through the door in August,” Workman said.
An early accomplishment of this work was that the number of this spring’s incoming students beat enrollment projections for both the undergraduate and graduate levels — “the second largest ever for a spring class,” Workman said.
“Is there any thought for the Enrollment Management Task Force to consider attracting students who are full pay,” an audience member said, “so that we don’t have to offer them a discount?”
Discount refers to the average amount of tuition the college pays per student in financial aid awards. Last spring The Campanil reported that the College’s discount rate was 49.4 percent — “way above a lot of our peer groups,” Nickel said in March 2011. Students received a financial aid package covering almost half of their tuition, but that also meant the College’s tuition revenue was halved.
At the April 11 community meeting, Workman said that there is an intense competition for students who don’t need financial aid: “There are relatively few of those students in that full-pay category.”
Full-pay students are not the solution to the College’s budget woes, according to Workman.
“But if you actually look at students who may not be full pay but have the means to pay a substantial proportion of that, we can actually do just fine with our financial model,” he said.
Nickel said that full-pay students are not necessarily the best students, either.
“A student with high grades and high test scores doesn’t have to full-pay anywhere,” Nickel said. “They’re going to get (merit-based) financial aid offered to them.”
Meanwhile, every Mills community member can help boost enrollment through the simple act of being nice to visiting prospective students and their families.
Provost Sandra Greer reminded the community about the upcoming Monday’s Admitted Student Preview Day for First-Year Students.
“Smile,” Greer said amid audience laughter. “Say hello. If they look lost, take them to where they need to be.”
“You laugh,” Workman said to those assembled, “but one of the things we found in this enrollment management work is that if parents and students don’t see people smiling, they think it’s an unfriendly campus and won’t come. So smile!”
In her closing remarks, DeCoudreaux echoed Greer and Workman.
“When we have students and families on campus on Monday or any other day,” DeCoudreaux said, “they see us with smiles on our faces, looking like we’re happy to be here, they feel happy to be here. I’m hopeful that we feel like we want to smile on a regular basis, but I’m asking you, that even if you don’t quite have it in you on Monday, if you can find your way to make those bright smiles apparent to those who are visiting, that can certainly help us with our enrollment.”
CORRECTION: The Campanil incorrectly attributed a quote about full-pay students to Renee Jadushlever, Vice President of Operations. Ms. Jadushlever did not say this. We have fixed the error in the article below.