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Trinity Forced To Cut Back

Overspending, Rising Costs Fuel Financial Crunch

April 21, 2006
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer

Trinity College will trim its administrative staff, lay off some part-time professors and even close a faculty lunchroom to fix a financial squeeze caused by years of overspending, President James F. "Jimmy" Jones Jr. said Thursday.

The financial crunch has pushed tuition to the limit and restricted the extent of student financial aid at the private college, potentially weakening Trinity's ability to attract a broad range of students, Jones said.

He also called for efforts to bolster the college's endowment, saying it has been tapped for costly projects such as a new community sports complex, repairs to the school's chapel and construction of the Learning Corridor, a public school complex that opened adjacent to campus six years ago.

"In short, for many years, Trinity has been living far beyond its means in the present while borrowing from the future year after year," Jones said.

Although the chapel repairs were unavoidable, and the Learning Corridor was the centerpiece of a community outreach effort that drew widespread praise for Trinity, the school had no choice but to turn to an endowment that remains "dramatically insufficient for our goals and ambitions," Jones told faculty and staff earlier this week.

Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, a former Trinity official, said the use of the endowment for the Learning Corridor was a business decision that has raised Trinity's profile and paid dividends, allowing the college to "redefine itself as an urban institution" and to attract new donors.

"Every dime of it was very well worth it," Jones said, but he has been grappling with budget shortages almost from the moment he arrived at the Hartford campus two years ago.

Last year, Trinity imposed a series of budget cuts, including a pay freeze for faculty and staff, to balance its budget and eliminate a potential $4.4 million shortfall, but the college has been hit hard this year by sharply rising health benefit costs and an unexpected 62 percent increase in utility costs, Jones said.

"You know, they're talking $3 a gallon for gasoline," he said Thursday. "Maybe Harvard's budget could tolerate costs like that, but very few of the rest of us can."

Around the nation, college budgets have been strained by rising costs in areas such as health insurance, technology and building construction. "It's not unusual for a number of private institutions to be going through budget difficulties," said Tony Pals of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

"The vast majority of our schools have small endowments, and most private colleges are heavily tuition-dependent," he said.

At Trinity, trustees are expected to approve next year's budget, just short of $100 million, in May. The issue, said board Chairman Paul E. Raether, "is pretty simple. We need to stop spending as much as we were spending. Over the years, we've added and added a number of programs, and nothing has ever been subtracted."

Trinity's tuition is expected to rise by 4.5 percent next year, subject to approval by trustees. This year's tuition, plus room and board, is about $42,200.

The new budget is expected to provide financial aid to only about 36 percent of the incoming freshman class, compared with levels of 45 percent to 50 percent at some of Trinity's competitors, Jones said.

The pay freeze for faculty and staff will end with an across-the-board 3 percent pay increase on July 1, but Trinity plans to drop more than a dozen administrative jobs and about two dozen part-time professors to hold down costs.

The reduction in part-time faculty will mean the loss of 48 courses, roughly 6 percent of the approximately 800 courses offered at Trinity, officials said.

"People are unhappy about the cutback in temporary faculty. In a lot of departments they fill an important role," said Adam Gross- berg, an economics professor and chairman of Trinity's financial affairs committee.

Even so, the belt-tightening has generated relatively little ill will, he said.

"People understand the college has serious financial issues to deal with," he said.

Trinity also plans reductions in its athletic and library budgets. Subsidized cut-rate faculty lunches also will be cut out, for a savings of $200,000.

In his remarks to faculty, Jones said the major reason for the financial squeeze has been the addition of faculty and programs without provisions for permanent funding. He cited, for example, a health benefit package for retirees.

He said Trinity also is paying off a larger-than-normal level of debt, chiefly for bonds that supported campus buildings such as residence halls, an admissions building and a renovated library.

Trinity's endowment last year was $379 million, well below that of some other New England liberal arts colleges, such as the nearly $1.2 billion endowment at Amherst College or the $1.3 billion at Williams College, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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