Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

In A 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 bottom line.

"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 said.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?