Pinch, Trinity Responds
College Scrambles To Offset $10 Million Budget Deficit
May 21, 2005
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
Not even Trinity College's colorful commencement will escape
the school's worrisome budget shortfall this year.
The giant white tent that has shielded spectators and graduates
in the past during the traditional outdoor ceremony will be missing
Sunday from the college's grassy quadrangle - and from the school's
"It costs $19,400 to rent and put up," Trinity President
James F. "Jimmy" Jones Jr. said recently, citing one
of the many budget cuts the private college has made to help
close a looming $10 million deficit.
In barely six months since the deficit caught Jones and other
officials by surprise, a council of faculty, staff, students
and administrators has found a way to balance the school's budget
- including a pay freeze for faculty and other non-hourly employees.
"It was very painful," said Jones, who is being credited
with confronting the problem openly and quickly. But, he said, "We
have done this, and we have not terminated a single employee,
which is mind-boggling."
The college, which enrolls
2,400 students, also was able to avoid eliminating programs,
he said. "We tried to be absolutely
certain the academic mission of the college is preserved," Jones
In a letter to parents this week, the school announced it will
increase tuition in the fall by 5 percent, slightly less than
the 5.7 percent increase each of the past two years. The total
cost of attending Trinity, including room, board and required
fees, will be $42,220 next year.
Around the nation, college budgets have been strained by a slumping
stock market and rising costs in health insurance, technology
and building construction. Some, such as Smith College in Massachusetts,
have faced similar deficits. Smith cut some faculty and non-faculty
jobs last year.
"A lot of colleges have gone through this," said Thomas
Mitzel, a chemistry professor and member of Trinity's budget
council, which has met weekly to seek ways to cover the deficit. "It's
never fun when it's you. ... It's something you work through."
He said the pay freeze "went over better than I thought
with faculty," in part because the budget review was largely
an open process.
"Had it been done in secret, there would have been more
animosity," Mitzel said. "There were a lot of faculty
involved in the process. I think [President] Jones has to be
given an incredible amount of credit for that."
Officials said the pay freeze might be temporary because the
college hopes to come up with an additional $375,000 in savings,
enough to afford modest raises.
Milla Riggio, a veteran English
professor, praised what she called "a tremendous spirit of cooperation" in
solving the problem but said many faculty members remain puzzled
at how the deficit caught the college by surprise.
"We know the crisis is serious," she said. Still, "I
think people are not happy. ... I think they feel the college
may be losing ground on salaries [compared] with schools we compete
with for faculty. We're holding our breath hoping this is a single
instance that will not have to be repeated."
Getting a handle on spending has been made more difficult by
a frequent turnover in administration. Jones, who also confronted
financial strains as president of Kalamazoo College in Michigan,
arrived in Hartford a year ago. He is Trinity's fifth president
in five years.
The turnover "makes it more and more difficult to keep
control [of finances]. It's not surprising they got into a problem," said
Jon W. Fuller, a senior fellow with the National Association
of Independent Colleges and Universities.
"Given the magnitude of the deficit," he said, "it's
a pretty heroic effort to get it all taken care of within a year."
Trinity's board of trustees
is expected to vote today on an annual budget of slightly less
than $111 million. "In our
view, you can't run the place unless you've got a balanced budget," board
Chairman Paul E. Raether said. "I think everyone understands
why it needs to be done. I'm sure not everyone is thrilled. It's
never fun to do, but those are the realities of the situation."
In addition to the pay freeze, the projected savings include
the consolidation of some administrative jobs, the loss of some
jobs through attrition and a reduction of overtime, mostly among
buildings and grounds workers.
The college also plans to increase its enrollment - and tuition
revenue - by adjusting the timing of student assignments to international
study programs. In the past, too many students chose to study
abroad during the second semester instead of the first, straining
dormitory capacity in the fall, officials said. The change opens
space for about 60 more students, officials said.
Besides about $5.3 million in budget cuts, officials project an
increase in revenue of $4.7 million, partly because of an aggressive
fundraising drive outlined by new Vice President Ronald Joyce,
who joined Trinity this year after working as a respected fundraiser
at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
"Every time Ron came to one of these [committee] meetings,
he brought more money," said Scott Reynolds, secretary of
the college and interim vice president for finance.
Trinity hopes to bolster its $377 million endowment, a figure
well below that of other liberal arts colleges in New England
such as Williams and Amherst.
Along with the budget cuts,
Jones and the committee have ordered a tightening of accounting
procedures. That includes a monthly review requiring department
heads and other officials to sign off on expenses to "avoid the overspending that's been an
endemic issue here," Jones said.
Jones, completing his first full year as Trinity's president,
said the committee will continue to meet. He vowed that the school
will monitor finances more closely.
Next year's potential $10
million deficit came on top of a $3.5 million shortfall that
Trinity officials scrambled to cover this year. "It's like the perfect financial storm," Jones
said, "but we have sailed through it."
Jones put his best spin on the new, more frugal approach, including
Sunday's commencement, when officials hope for sunny skies over
the tree-lined and tentless campus green.
"If you have a quadrangle like that," he said, "you're
going to put up a tent?
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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