Nationally, higher education is under severe financial stress. Universities like Drew struggle to find the right formula to provide an education that is excellent and affordable. To achieve financial balance, a university must plan carefully, understand what it must do well and what it must relinquish and constantly review its structure and expenditures so it can direct resources to core academic enterprises and mission imperatives.
Drew is no exception. Our University has financial challenges, in part because we have tried to do too much with our limited resources. Our budget deficit means that we are spending more than we are taking in. This is not sustainable. The Board of Trustees and University leadership have committed, for the long-term health of Drew, to reduce the deficit and to balance the budget through a series of cost savings initiatives, and a commitment to ongoing and rigorous financial planning.
Whether the University is embarking on a special cost-saving initiative or engaging in ongoing financial planning, we must consider whether its structure and associated positions are the best and most efficient in relation to its goals. Failure to do this risks sacrificing academic excellence.
Putting learning first and focusing on quality in student-facing areas requires structural change to better achieve overall goals. When staff members have overlapping skills or expertise, it may make sense to shift some of those staff resources to other areas. This can’t always be accomplished by moving a staff person who has experience in one area to a role that requires a different skill set.
We can’t discuss individual employees for reasons of confidentiality involving that employee. This means that the focus of the conversation needs to be on the function, the role, or the job description and not on a specific person.
The factors mentioned above are consistently brought to bear in all decisions involving budget changes, regardless of whether they involve savings or shifting resources to new mission-imperative areas.
Our institutional planning efforts have created an opportunity to move expenditures to mission-central initiatives. It has afforded us several new programs, including three new New York Semesters, academic majors in Media and Communications and Public Health, additional Master’s Degrees (in which CLA students can complete dual degrees), a new Theological School curriculum, two new athletic teams, a new Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, a new Center for Experiential Learning and Career Development, and all of the post college planning initiatives that make up Launch.
When the Board of Trustees and the administration contemplated the cost saving initiatives shared in November, we acted on several principles, which undergird all financial decisions.
Student success is at the forefront.
Information about how other institutions like us do things is important evidence for benchmarking.
Tuition dollars must first be spent for mission-central purposes.
Savings will be sustainable if decisions about student learning and financial health go hand in hand.
In some cases, we decided to stop doing things because they aren’t central to our mission of educating our students and because tuition dollars were supporting these purposes.
In other cases, independent of the individuals involved, we can achieve goals with fewer staff, either because other staff have gained new expertise or because we’ve achieved a level of best practice. For example, the President’s Office now has one fewer person than last year, and we’re creating more positions of responsibility for student workers.
In yet other cases, an examination of processes, functions, and overlap in skill set informed a restructure that will allow us to accomplish the same goals in a different way. In these cases, the function or the office isn’t gone, but the job components are re-organized while keeping student success at the forefront.
We must spend within our means while keeping student success at the forefront. While it is sometimes difficult to experience change, thoughtful planning and its outcomes are essential for the long-term sustainability of a healthy organization.