November 28, 2020
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Probe uncovers College’s financial status amidst pandemic, remote semester

By Jibran Abbasi and McKenzie Collins
Staff Writers

A Signal probe dove into the examination of the College’s 2020 to 2021 fiscal year plans and the resulting change in management of allocation of education and infrastructure funding, price hikes and expected revenue losses due to Covid-19. 

In the raw revenue category and domain revenue for student fees, The Signal analyzed data that compared previous trends in fees to contemporary ones levied from students. 

Analysis suggests that the College has remained static in the rate at which they increase the cost of tuition. In fact, the increase is at an all-time low for annual tuition and fees. However, the trends do not follow for other fees when compared to the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI), which the College has been using as a guide in increasing the costs of goods and services. 

The HEPI measures inflation of goods and services purchased by a university, which indicates the rate at which higher education institutions charge students to accommodate for this increase in cost of services. 

Current data indicates that although the rates used by the HEPI are in phase with annual tuition, both room and board, and overall annual fees are increasing at greater rates than previously noted. 

In the fiscal year, 2020 HEPI announced a percent increase in goods and services of 2.20%, and the college increased the costs of these services by 2.25, 2.66 and 3.16 percent for tuition, room and board, and overall annual fees, respectively. This same overstep taken in cost increases in goods and services can be found in exact quantities of levied student tuition expenses each fiscal year. 

This chart indicates the College’s cost increase (Jibran Abbasi / Staff Writer).

Average costs that full-time in-state and out-of-state undergraduate students are charged with have been steadily increasing over the past four years, which reflects the price hikes of goods and services the College has imposed. By way of illustration, if you attend the College in the fiscal year 2020, you will have been charged $31,000 on average. If you are an out-of-state student, the price increases to $43,000. Compared to the national average for in-state, four-year public universities, the cost of tuition is far lower — a predicted cost of $22,000 according to the National Center for Education Statistics

Such a disparity in costs, however, is accommodated for by the College through numerous programs and opportunities such as the merit scholarships and all forms of financial aid that the school provides. The amount of aid the College projects to provide to students for the fiscal year 2020 is approximately $18.5 million. 

This chart indicates tuition and board expenses (Jibran Abbasi / Staff Writer).

One common thread throughout the budget plan for this fiscal year was the noticeably high amount of revenue that is deemed “capital construction/facility renovation.” On page nine of the FY2021 State Budget Request, the estimated revenue from this department is $22,478,470. This money is a compilation of the fees that, on student bills, are known as general services or capital fees. 

This is used to finance campus construction projects and general maintenance such as ongoing infrastructure and utility projects. Currently, this would be mainly underground pipe repairs, fire alarm maintenance and other repair work that would be easiest to complete while students are away.

“Armstrong, the new STEM complex, the AIMM building: to build those facilities the College has to go out and borrow money. So we issue bonds in hundreds of millions of dollars to construct these facilities,” said Lloyd Ricketts, the vice president and treasurer of the College. “These bonds have to be repaid like a mortgage, so on a regular basis we repay principal and interest.” 

In addition to “capital construction,” the budget report cites “state appropriations” as 24 percent of the total college revenue. As a public higher education institution, the College receives a large amount of state funding, most of which accounts for staff salaries and benefits, along with the academic features of campus. 

Ricketts assured that, aside from the College’s contribution to the predetermined fringe benefits for staff members, “all of the funds that we get from the state are just to support the educational aspect of the institution.” 

Compensation, a blanket term used for salaries and benefits, makes up $151 million in the College’s expenses, accounting for 61 percent of the total expenses.

In the Budget Planning Assumptions Fiscal Years 2020-2025, the graphics establish that this aspect consumes more of the College’s money than all of the other expenses combined. 

This chart indicates the College’s tuition and board expenses (Jibran Abbasi / Staff Writer).

Ricketts explained that “compensation is salary and wages, so all of our faculty members- the professors- their salaries and benefits. That line ‘compensation’ encompasses the salaries and benefits for faculty members (and) staff members … It includes student payroll, it includes overtime, it includes everything that has to do with anything paid to anyone who works at the College.”

In the current Budget Timeline, the cabinet would typically be listening to student-based presentations on budget requests. Specifically, this would pertain to strategic priorities and capital needs. They would also be working to refine the budget assumptions and forecasts for the upcoming fiscal year. However, due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the budget has experienced severe setbacks.

Ricketts established that “the pandemic takes precedence.” He clarified by stating, “President Foster would also like to make that budget discussion process or timeline a little more aggressive where it gives the department a lot more time to have open dialogue about their budget plans for the upcoming year.”

“The budget was in really bad shape because of the pandemic. We were losing revenue, giving students back their money and not laying anyone off,” Ricketts said. “You still have to pay those expenses, so they developed some principles to say, ‘OK, when you’re making budgetary decisions the student comes first.’ We’re going to make sure that we maintain the instruction. If we’re going to cut anything, we’re going to preserve the instructional component. That’s the core of our operation.”

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