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Currents: financial outlook

November 2008

Dear Colby-Sawyer Community Members,

In recent months, many of my conversations—whether with college community members, alumni and friends, or our Board of Trustees—have focused on the turbulent economic conditions in our nation and world. Many of you are concerned about the potential impact on Colby-Sawyer's finances and how it might affect each of you. I wanted to share my impressions and confidence with all of you.

First, it's important to step back and understand the broad context of our present situation. In its 171-year-history, Colby-Sawyer has often confronted economic uncertainty, and in many ways, we are better positioned today than ever before to weather the current economic storms. It does not mean that we will not have to manage our expenses more closely or find new ways to increase our revenues; however, it does mean that we are prepared for that hard work.

Our endowment, while experiencing significant declines in recent months, had increased 900 percent in the last 15 years, allowing the college to strengthen and even expand our faculty, programs and facilities. The generous contributions of our alumni, parents and friends continue to support the college's highest priorities, including scholarships and financial aid for our students. Our finances and investments are expertly managed by our professional staff, with advice and counsel from our trustees with many years of investment and financial management experience. And this year we met our long-time goal of 1,000 students, after two consecutive years of the largest first-year classes in college history. Early indicators suggest that we are well on track to another very successful enrollment year in 2009-2010.

Yet Colby-Sawyer faces significant challenges amid the current economic climate that will require careful scrutiny and prudent management of our financial resources. These efforts will be guided by our new Strategic Plan, our academic mission and by our commitment to our highest priority, our students' education. Thus we will continue to provide financial support for students who need scholarships and financial aid; pursue excellence in our academic and co-curricular programs; enroll outstanding students who are most likely to flourish at Colby-Sawyer; and build financial strength for the present and future.

The challenges that confront us include an endowment that has shrunk in a year by approximately 21 percent, which will restrict the amount of dollars that we can invest in our most important resources—our people, programs and place. While our larger first-year classes have increased tuition revenue, our students' need for financial aid is much higher than in the past. Other expenses have escalated significantly as well, including costs for health care, propane, vendors and property taxes.

The credit crunch also made borrowing more expensive for the college, although these costs have begun to return to more predictable levels in the last couple of weeks. Additionally, the implementation of the first stage of a compensation plan for faculty and staff (following a comprehensive study by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2008) will require a major investment in salary and benefits. If we were to meet all of our expenses without altering how we do business, we would face a significant budget deficit over the next year.

To avoid a potential deficit, the senior officers and I, with support from our trustees, will work with faculty and staff in a comprehensive effort to reduce expenditures and increase revenues in the next year. We will identify cost savings across departments, reduce our tuition discount rates and work hard to boost our student retention rates. We will also re-commit ourselves to the college's re-engineering efforts, searching for creative ways to generate new sources of revenue and control our expenses.

Additionally, we remain committed to retaining current faculty and staff levels, increasing the size of our full-time faculty as we move forward, and adding new academic programs that will expand our students' educational opportunities. We will also carefully review vacant positions and fill only the most essential positions. Through focused efforts across the campus to achieve greater efficiencies, I am confident we will succeed in balancing our budget this year.

While we and the majority of other colleges and universities in the country confront great financial challenges, I believe we should continue to invest in what we believe in and value most at Colby-Sawyer. We raised an impressive $1.6 million in the 2007-2008 Annual Fund, which will fund our highest priorities, and we have gained momentum in our efforts to build a new arts center, raising $3.1 million to date.

We have already received contributions of $310,000 toward a $1 million challenge grant to construct a new Windy Hill School for our Early Childhood Education programs. The college is committed to funding our new compensation plan for faculty and staff, which represents a more fair, market-based and equitable system of supporting our most valuable resources. We hope too that all of you who believe in our academic mission and direction will also continue to invest in and support what you value as well.

At the urging of one of our trustees, Pamela Stanley Bright '61, I recently took a walk around campus to see some of my favorite traditional buildings on campus. Carved into the cornerstones of these lovely brick residence halls were the dates 1929, 1930 and 1932, which reminded me that even during the Great Depression, Colby-Sawyer College chose to invest in our students. It was the right thing to do then, and it is the right thing to do now.


Thomas C. Galligan Jr.

President and Professor of Humanities