SLU attempts to tackle future budget challenges

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As institutions nationwide continue to seek ways to adapt to mounting fiscal challenges in higher education, Saint Louis University is in the process of creating and implementing a number of new programs that aim to cut university expenses while increasing fundraising, enrollment and retention, according to Interim President Bill Kauffman’s March 7 letter to the University community. Included among these initiatives are the Voluntary Enhanced Retirement Program (VERP), the introduction of an accelerated undergraduate-to-law degree program and an online giving challenge aimed at younger university graduates.

The VERP, which was first announced in Kauffman’s Jan. 23 letter, is an early retirement initiative which is being developed in an attempt to combat rising compensation and general expenses while facing a decrease in the rate of enrollment. The Faculty Senate and Staff Advisory Committee have been working with the University on the VERP in addition to a human resources consulting firm. An announcement with details about the program is expected in the first week of April. Compensation and benefits account for approximately 72 percent of the University’s expenses, and the University employs roughly 2,200 faculty and 6,000 staff members.

Kauffman pointed to Fairfield, Holy Cross, University of Loyola New Orleans and Marquette as examples of Jesuit universities that have offered similar programs in the past. The University of Indiana also presented its employees with early retirement packages in 2011.

Holy Cross, which currently employs 279 full-time and 44 part-time faculty, had 35 out of 52 employees

accept the early retirement offer, generating approximately $1 million in annual savings, according to the institution’s 2009 President’s Report.  At IU 495 of 2,566 eligible individuals applied for and received an early separation incentive in 2011, which was expected to save the university $6 million annually according to a university media release in June of that year.

In conjunction with cutting costs, SLU is making efforts to reverse the downtrend in student enrollment through various new programs. Of note is an accelerated program in which students can obtain a law degree within six years. The program is the result of collaboration between the John Cook School of Business and School of Law and aims to provide further incentive for those considering law school to attend SLU.

In an additional effort to increase enrollment, SLU has added admission counselors in Colorado, California and along the East Coast, which has already increased the amount of applications in those locations, according to Kauffman’s letter.

The University has also announced the creation of a team of “student success coaches” with the goal of increasing student enrollment by identifying “at-risk” first-year students and providing support and guidance to help those students succeed. “At-risk” students are identified through a platform called MAP-Works, which collects data from first-year student concerning academic, socio-emotional and financial status. Success coaches are expected to meet with students, develop a year-long plan for success and provide the students with information in the form of resources and contacts that will help them succeed. The program aims to generate $960,000 in revenue by increasing retention by 3 percent, or 48 students, annually.

In the way of fundraising efforts, SLU’s Go Further scholarship matching program has raised over $1.6 million in donations, which will be matched by the University by means of its endowment. SLU has also attempted to generate increased donations from alumni from 2003 to 2013 by creating the Battle of the BOLD (Billikens of the Last Decade) Giving Challenge. Initiated in late January, the challenge counts donations by class in a competition to become the class that gives the most over the course of a year. The challenge is expected to continue annually, and the classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016 have already raised $19,847, $11,392 and $11,928 in donations, respectively.

The new programs come at financially challenging times for institutions of higher education. Tuition prices at private nonprofit four-year institutions have increased 2.3 percent annually in the last decade after adjusting for inflation according to The College Board’s 2014 survey, while U.S. median household income in December was $52,318 according to a 2013 trend report by Sentier Research: this marks a 5 percent decrease in median income over the past 10 years and a 6.4 percent decrease since December 2007, the first month of the recession. A 2014 study of trends in higher education performed by The Lawlor Group indicated that college enrollments are expected to increase only 10 percent over the next eight years, a stark contrast to the 38 percent growth in enrollment over the last eight years.