We are in the process of preparing our next five year plan which will cover the years 2012-2017. Our previous plan focused on providing additional resources to enhance the academic profile of the University and very substantial progress was made in enhancing undergraduate student quality as well as adding additional faculty lines and other resources. This new plan will again have an academic orientation but not the luxury of focusing just on what we would like to add.
Our previous plan predated the current economic recession. This new plan is taking shape as we are hopefully slowly pulling out of the economic decline. But as we all know the landscape has changed. There is more family and student financial need and consequently many institutions are responding by increasing need-based scholarships and increasing their discount rate. This money needs to be budgeted and some of the funds are reallocated from other present expenditure items in the budget. Some of this reallocation will come almost inevitably from the academic budget.
But if the economy is really improving can’t we go back to business as usual; won’t reallocations be reversed and need-based scholarships (and discounting) decline? I don’t think so. The expectations of need based scholarships and of tuition discounting are now so firmly implanted in the hearts and minds of our students and their families that we will need to continue our present discounting practices. But there is good news. An improving economy will allow for additional revenues and that includes tuition revenues as well as fund raising. We will have funding for new academic initiatives but we are still constrained.
New academic initiatives are the lifeblood of an institution but the usual practice is to implement the new without a careful look at everything we are presently doing, and whether the need still exists for every program that is being offered. As educators, I think we know we are likely offering some majors and some courses where there is not a critical mass of students (or a critical mass of faculty to teach the program). We are also likely still awarding some stipends or released time based on what existed before that doesn’t necessarily still exist today. We need, in preparing new five year plans (and planning for the future in general), to look at everything we are presently offering. If the student demand isn’t there, if our resources are being overly diluted because of too many programs, if we have an ambitious agenda for moving the institution forward but not all the new resources we need to accomplish the goal, we need to be prepared to make the tough decisions. I am sure we have made some already but I am also fairly sure there are more that can and should be made.
We all know that it is easier to give resources than to reduce resources. But the age old definition of economics still holds true — we are dealing with the allocation of scarce resources among alternative ends. Scarcity is a fact of life. Our test is how well we manage in this reality.