By Jackie Glosniak
March 20, 2013
President Donna Carroll projected a calm aura in a recent interview while addressing problems with the budget that have been on the minds of faculty and staff all semester.
Carroll said she believes the university is taking the right steps towards alleviating the present budget crunch, from voluntary staff cuts to limiting faculty attendance at conferences. She says she is working to maintain student programs and the number of faculty available for students. Carroll is also keeping contact with faculty and staff through frequent meetings and bi-weekly email updates.
Carroll explained why Dominican is keeping a closer eye on its operating budget, and the measures the university is taking to ensure its fiscal longevity.
“We didn’t meet all of our enrollment projections, and since Dominican is tuition driven, enrollment affects budget,” Carroll said.
Graduate and undergraduate enrollment populations have both dropped this year, and over the past five years, the graduate enrollment numbers have dropped by around 400 students. Carroll believes these are typical trends because of the national recession and because people are investing the time and money to go to school for degrees.
“Every school has its own scenario of this happening, it’s not just Dominican specific,” she said. “It is going to be a tight year; there is no question. We made a decision that we would forecast enrollment more conservatively, and so that means our tuition revenue forecast will be lower.”
This year, Carroll assures that the university very closely monitored expenses and gaps in the budget and expects to end this fiscal year with a clean balance. With less of a budget to work with than in previous years, many have wondered what exactly Dominican has done to come out on top while working with less.
“We have done it [maintained fiscal health] without affecting students, faculty, staff, or programs,” Carroll explained. “We have done it by savings in utilities, open positions and some modest voluntary cutbacks in different offices.”
Such voluntary cutbacks have included some part-time faculty leaving positions, which is not expected to dramatically affect university departments. Carroll has also confirmed that no pay freezes were made to the salaries of staff members and savings in professional travel have significantly helped save money, where faculty and staff were asked to forgo travel if they were not specifically presenting at educational conferences. The administration also decided not to do their annual spring alumni magazine, which Carroll projects saved around $30 to $40,000.
Carroll says to further alleviate the stresses of a smaller operating budget, Dominican has a number of initiatives going on looking for efficiencies to save dollars across the board.
“We’re always restructuring and looking at where we can create efficiencies,” Carroll said.
Some of these efficiencies has taken place with the university’s green initiatives, including Physical Plant’s work to make campus lighting more environmentally and economically efficient, done by recent projects to windows in Power Hall and the MAC building.
For students who may be worried about budget shortfalls affecting them, Carroll assures that students will not be affected and will not have a hindrance on their Dominican experience.
“In this economy, undergraduate students need more financial aid,” Carroll said. “Dominican is a fairly substantial institution at this point, so that means we have to be vigilant and budget tightly. It’s not affecting the student experience, it’s not affecting coursework. It is our needing to be very responsible and budget tightly across the institution.”
What does worry Carroll is not Dominican’s commitment to student financial aid, however. She remains concerned about problems within the state of Illinois, specifically with proposed cuts to the MAP Grant due to the state’s own budget struggles.
“Dominican remains absolutely committed to merit scholarships, need-based financial aid to all students based on their merits and that’s a priority for us,” she said.
Carroll discussed that this month’s benefit concert also went very well, and she estimates that $400,000 will result from the concert and be used directly towards student scholarships.
Even though Dominican is managing a tight budget, it does not mean there are no investments towards new programs for both undergraduate and graduate students. New program initiatives at Dominican include the new legal studies program in partnership with Triton, the launch of a nursing major and a weekend MBA program.
In light of recent faculty concerns regarding the genuineness of more online and satellite campus class options available to students, Carroll says these initiatives are strong ways to bring Dominican into the twenty-first century and address the needs of students from all different financial backgrounds.
“I truly believe that we can design online coursework that can be distinctively Dominican,” she said. “And, shame on us if they’re not truly Dominican degrees, because we’re designing them.”
Overall, the budget is not keeping President Carroll worried about the financial future of Dominican.
“This was a little bit of a wakeup call, because when you’re a tuition driven institution, you can be healthy. But, you’re still vulnerable to trends in the market.”