By Hannah Posey-Scholl
For the second year in a row, Lewis & Clark College has a budget deficit. One of the main reasons for this is that LC has failed to bring in and retain enough students to meet their enrollment projections, and the college’s budget relies on student tuition. This year, the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) has 111 fewer students than expected due to admitted students not attending LC and former students not returning.
Right now this is a national problem, as only 40 to 45 percent of small private liberal arts colleges met their enrollment targets this fall. Nationally, the number of high school students graduating is falling and is not expected to rise again until 2026.
“The only institutions that aren’t feeling these pressures are the ones that have a billion or more of endowment,” Alan Finn, Vice President for Finance and Business and the Treasurer for LC, said.
Because LC has a relatively small endowment, the college has had to compensate with cuts in certain areas. While some may think the Trail Room and bridge closures are the result of this, in reality these are unrelated to the budget issues. The bridges were closed due to issues of structural integrity and are in the process of being rebuilt, while the Trail Room closure is caused by LC wanting to keep food costs low as Bon Appétit’s operating costs increase.
Even though the bridge repairs are not impacted by the budget issues, other maintenance projects have been put on hold.
“The way we do a lot of our deferred maintenance projects here is it’s paid for out of the operating budget, and then it goes into what we call depreciation reserves, and we spend out of those reserves to do various projects around campus,” said Finn. “So we’ve pulled back on some of those projects”
Nevertheless, the budget uncertainties this year have taken their toll on faculty and staff.
This year, the CAS faculty and the common services employees for all three LC campuses have yet to receive their salary letters for the year, meaning they don’t know what their raises are or how much they are being paid for their jobs.
“Usually even in a bad year with a budget shortfall we get salary letters,” Associate Professor and Chair of Economics Clifford Bekar said. “It may be modest but we actually had them and this year we don’t even have them. The incentive effects are weak, so I think ultimately that’s not only demoralizing but in fact it can probably be felt by the students.”
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the faculty Budget Advisory Committee Joel Martinez agreed that if any part of the budget cuts are affecting students, it’s the changes made to salaries. However, both Bekar and Martinez mentioned faith in the dedication of faculty here at LC.
“I’d be surprised if it affects anything in the classroom because (faculty) are so committed here,” Martinez said.
LC is implementing a system called Strategic Enrollment Management, which has been in the works since Barry Glassner was president. It’s now finally being launched under newly inaugurated President Wim Wiewel.
“It’s about using data to make decisions about ‘what does a successful Lewis & Clark student look like?’ How do we measure that, how do we find them,” Finn said.
This year, now that the enrollment numbers are finalized and the Board of Trustees and Finance Committee meetings have passed, the Fiscal Year ’18 budget is finalized and CAS faculty and staff should hear about their pay in the next couple of months. From here on out, the school starts planning next year’s budget.
Wiewel has a history with successful fundraising, and even in the two days of the Board of Trustees meetings, he left an impression.
“It was the most hopeful two days since I’ve been here,” Finn said, who has been at LC for the last two years.
At this point, LC is raising money in a campaign for the first time in 10 years, and implementing the Strategic Enrollment Management system with the goal of bringing in more students who will want to stay at this school. This is the second year LC has missed its budget, and it isn’t looking for a third.