Updated, Sunday, 11:30 p.m.
A series of budget cuts at Barnard over the past year has been part of a concerted effort to slash up to $8 million from the college’s approximately $160 million annual operating budget, Barnard President Debora Spar told Spectator on Thursday.
Administrators have already identified $5.7 million worth of cuts, in part through eliminating part-time tuition and offering some professors and administrators early retirement packages. Spar said the cuts are intended to eliminate a “small but significant” operating deficit that has plagued the college, with the ultimate goal of bringing down annual tuition increases.
Barnard has run an operating deficit, which last year ran to about $5 million, for three of the last five years. The college has been forced to raise tuition at an average rate of 5 percent per year over that five-year period.
“It’s not that we’ve all of a sudden hit a crisis,” Spar said. “It’s just that the financial crises made clear that if we wanted to really care about tuition prices over the long haul, we had to get rid of this deficit,” Spar said.
The annual budget deficits have directly impacted tuition because Barnard’s endowment is very small, relative to other small liberal arts colleges. Barnard’s approximately $218 million endowment is less than one-sixth the size of the endowments of Amherst, Swarthmore, and Wellesley, all of which enroll fewer students than Barnard. As a result, Spar said, more than 60 percent of Barnard’s annual operating budget comes from tuition, whereas at peer institutions, budgets are more dependent on endowment.
“Because we are so tuition-dependent, when times are bad, we only have one lever to pull, which is tuition,” Spar said.
Ultimately, Spar said, she’d like to see tuition increases fall into line with the annual rate of inflation, about 1 to 2 percent per year. However, she acknowledged that in the short term, 3 to 4 percent is more realistic, even given the cuts.
The next big step toward keeping tuition increases down is the capital campaign that Barnard plans to launch officially in 2014. While the details of the campaign—which is currently in its “quiet phase,” Spar said—have yet to be finalized, the college will seek to raise approximately $100 million in scholarship funds and $100 million for faculty chairs and other curricular expenses, in addition to funding for major campus renovations.
“This will be far and away the biggest campaign the college has ever had. It’s very hard to do that if you’ve got a deficit on the books,” Spar said. “Because that’s one of the first questions donors ask—‘What shape is the college in financially?’ And it’s really important to be able to say we are running a small surplus every year.”
Spar believes the budget cuts have been structured “as equitably as possible”—25 percent will come from student programming, 25 percent will come from curriculum, and 50 percent will come from administrative budgets. But the cuts have been a source of frustration around campus. Students protested last fall when Barnard dean Avis Hinkson announced that the college would begin charging part-time students full-time tuition and formed a campaign to save the Barnard pool, which is slated to close to make room for temporary office space during campus renovations.
One of students’ main concerns has been that they have not been consulted on many of the cuts. “I sense that students are frustrated that certain programs and core things from Barnard’s mission are being lost from decisions being made,” JungHee Hyun, BC ’13 and president of Barnard’s Student Government Association, said at a meeting protesting the pool closure last week.
Spar, though, said that in the years since the 2008 financial crisis, she and other administrators have been “very open and transparent” about the need for Barnard to cut costs.
“We’ve been saying exactly the same thing for three years, but I think because there’s a certain amount of turmoil, it’s hard,” Spar said. “And no one’s really listening until it hits.”
Although Spar couldn’t comment on what budget cuts might come next, saying that administrators are beginning another round of discussions with faculty committees, she noted that the college is looking to increase revenues by renting out conference space throughout the year. She also said that the college is not factoring the unrelated issue of potential savings from its contract with the United Auto Workers Local 2110 union into its cutting projections.
Spar emphasized that the college’s financial concerns are “not Barnard-specific,” noting that colleges and universities everywhere have been trimming their budgets and struggling to keep tuition in check.
“Every college on the planet is facing this,” Spar said. “And we may be being a little bit more transparent and explicit in going after it, but we have not faced a Barnard-specific financial crisis at all.”
Sammy Roth contributed reporting.