Daily headlines about rising college tuition, increasing levels of student loan debt, and a sluggish economy are constant reminders of the challenges that colleges grapple with these days. Even institutions with steady enrollments and strong endowments have not been immune from pressures to contain costs.
For private liberal arts colleges, the model of increasing revenue to balance increasing costs – for personnel, facilities and equipment, financial aid, and an array of academic and extra-curricular support and programs – is becoming more difficult to sustain. College leaders have had to address these trends and make tough choices in their planning and budgeting.
Since faculty play such a central role at liberal arts colleges – in the classroom, of course, and also in shared institutional governance – they are directly affected by the changing economic landscape and its impact on college budgets and priorities. Importantly, they also help shape the way colleges respond.
To support the member colleges’ efforts in navigating the current economic climate, the ACM is creating the Institute on College Futures, funded by a generous grant of $250,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Through a series of seminars and conferences, the Institute aims to build a deeper understanding among ACM faculty of the economic challenges facing their colleges and strategies for strengthening and sustaining college finances.
“The ACM presidents have made clear that the health of our colleges depends on faculty who are prepared to fully engage in on-campus discussions about college costs and financial stability, ways to improve their college’s business model, and how to weigh budget choices that affect college life in the short and long run,” said ACM President Christopher Welna.
“Offered at the consortial level, this type of training can help faculty gain perspectives on college economics that are broader than just their individual colleges and that promote sharing of strategies across campuses,” Welna added. “We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for enabling ACM to develop a program that will strengthen our colleges and, we hope, provide a model that will be useful to other liberal arts colleges and the wider higher education community.”
The Institute on College Futures will feature two cycles of seminars and conferences over the next four years, designed to create a ripple effect across the ACM campuses of faculty involvement in the project and dissemination of knowledge and insights gained in the Institute.
The first year (2012-13) will feature a consortium-wide, two-day seminar, bringing together four faculty members from each ACM college who are involved in discussions about budgets and finance on their campuses. The faculty will take on active leadership roles after the seminar to educate their colleagues about the learning from the Institute.
In addition to the seminar facilitators and outside experts, who will bring depth and breadth of knowledge of the subject area to the seminar curriculum, faculty participants will contribute by preparing case studies focused on specific financial choices and trade-offs that are germane to their colleges.
In 2013-14, a pair of regional, one-day conferences will provide condensed tutorials on college economics and finance based on the most significant lessons gleaned from the seminar. Each conference will host delegations of about 25 faculty from each of three or four ACM colleges.
The cycle of a seminar followed by two regional conferences will repeat in the third and fourth years of the project, building on the curriculum of the first cycle. Overall, more than 30 faculty from each college – about one-fourth of the faculty on many ACM campuses – will be directly involved as participants in the Institute events. Follow-up presentations and lectures by seminar participants at individual colleges, as well as webinars and other online resources, will further disseminate the expertise developed through the Institute.
The project is already in its formative stages, according to Welna, as consortial staff are recruiting a steering committee from among the ACM colleges to help engage external experts and set the initial curriculum for the Institute on College Futures. The committee will include at least one president, an academic dean, a chief financial officer, and a director of a center for teaching and learning.