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SGA and administration panel addresses budget concerns

Zoe Covey

Features Editor 

On Nov. 13, the Student Government Association (SGA) collaborated with college administrators on an event meant to clarify the ways the College utilizes its funds and the current priorities of the school for the budget. The Budget 101 Meeting featured President Sarah Bolton, Interim Vice President for Finances and Business Charles Ingram, Vice President for Advancement Wayne Webster and SGA President Monét Davis ’19 as speakers.  

Ingram presented the 2018 revenue summary of the College and discussed net tuition revenue, auxiliary costs such as food, the amount of restricted money going toward things like our endowment and the increase in financial aid being given by the College each year. He also clarified the difference between “budget drivers,” which are ongoing or permanent sources of income and expenditure  such as tuition, inflation and compensation and one-time sources such as gifts, consultants or travel. In regard to the 2019 Financial Year Budget, Ingram explained that the College maintains a very tight budget, with very little surplus money per financial year. Webster discussed current priorities as well as existing gaps that currently receive little to no funding. The priorities of the budget are centered around Wooster’s mission, and all budget decisions are meant to make the experience and education of the students at the College better. 

Webster said, “Many priorities are static year-to -year, including faculty and staff salaries, programmatic support and operational costs. These continued investments ensure our commitment to funding the mission of the College and those services that most impact the educational and co-educational experiences of the students. There are other priorities, such as small capital investments, which are identified each year through consultation with faculty and staff departments. Those are then prioritized based on a number of variables including their impact on campus safety, accessibility, comfort and strategic importance.” 

Webster also delved into the intricacies of Wooster’s Promise, a recent giving campaign that raised  over $190 million for financial aid, academic strength, experiential education, the life sciences and the Wooster Fund. Webster explained that Wooster’s Promise was separate from the general budget of the College in that “some of the dollars raised for the Wooster’s Promise campaign fund one-time priorities, such as the construction of the Ruth W. Williams Hall of Life Science and Brush Hall, and the renovation of The Alley space in Lowry. But other campaign gifts, particularly those given to the endowment, have an impact on our mission in perpetuity and for generations of students, faculty and staff.” Webster continued, “the dollars raised each year by The Wooster Fund, which is also counted in the campaign total, provide for all facets of the College’s operations.” 

Bolton’s topic was how the College makes annual budget decisions. She explained the process from her perspective, saying, “Part of what I do is oversee the process of developing our priorities, which we do through a combination of campus input … and discussion in my cabinet, which includes the lead people in each part of the College.” Bolton then elaborated on the opportunities that the students, staff and faculty can provide insight for  campus  priorities. Furthermore, Bolton stated, “Once we have our priorities developed, we then model what resources we expect to have for the coming year, and start to figure out how we can best meet the needs within the budget resources we have.” She explained,  “Even though tuition and fees increase every year, our total resources don’t increase, because each year we need to provide more financial aid. So, aside from special gifts, which usually have a particular purpose, our total resources remain constant.  That means that in order to do new things (or even to give significant raises or pay for increases in the costs of things like utilities), we need to make careful decisions. Ultimately, I present the proposed budget to the Board of Trustees in March, and they provide feedback and vote in June.”

On the topic of how the budget has changed to incorporate new initiatives over the last few years, Bolton said, “The large majority (about 70 percent) of our annual budget goes to compensation — salaries and benefits for our hundreds of staff and faculty. When you add other multi-year commitments such as facilities maintenance, utilities, contracts, materials and supplies, there is relatively little flexibility.” 

Bolton added, “Our total resources are relatively constant year over year, so in order to do new things, we typically have to raise additional funds, or decrease expenditures in some area, or sometimes both. When adding new staff or faculty to the College, we have to make sure that we have a source of resources over multiple years, so that we can sustain them over time.” 

However, Bolton did list several new projects and positions that have been added to the College recently, citing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan as the catalyst for many of these additions. In terms of the changes brought about by this initiative, Bolton said, “We added the new position of Title IX Coordinator and Director of Sexual Violence Prevention and Response in spring 2017.  This year, we are hiring a new Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, who will start this spring. We also raised additional funds to create a special fund to support the needs of immigrant and DACA students and  created the Perry-Williams Fellow program, which brings superb early-career scholars to campus who increase the diversity of our faculty and curriculum.  (We currently have six Perry-Williams Fellows). We have also provided funds for training of all staff, faculty and students to increase their knowledge of how to work respectfully and inclusively.” She also listed the new fourth counselor at Longbrake, as well as increased English aid for students who do not speak it as a first language. Projects such as brighter street lights along Beall Ave., Compton Hall’s renovation to include a new space for LGBTQIA+ students, increased RA funding and more security cameras also stemmed from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan.

Bolton said that the Budget 101 Meeting happened because of a desire on the part of the student body for increased transparency about the budget. Bolton said, “Monét Davis, the SGA President, and I had been discussing various ways to increase transparency for quite some time.  We had both noted that, even though the College’s audited financial statements are publicly posted (and we had shared those links after the Galpin Call-in, for example), just having a list of numbers doesn’t help people get a sense of the  things that they are most interested in.  People want to know not just what their tuition is going towards, they also want to know how decisions are made, and how they can be involved. A live conversation is much better for that, and so I was very grateful to Monét and the SGA for sponsoring this event.  I hope we will have many more such conversations in the future, and we are talking with SGA about how to do so in ways that work well for as many students as possible.” 

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