ASWU March 10: ASWU President gives Board of Trustees winter meeting update
At their March 10 meeting, the Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU) approved Colby Alexander (‘24) to serve as interim chief justice until the end of the academic year, voted to raise the mandatory student fee and heard the second half of a report from President Giovanni Bautista (‘22) on the winter Board of Trustees meeting. Treasurer Michael Burke (‘23) gave an initial presentation on the possibility of using funds from the endowment to subsidize the Bistro, which continues to struggle financially. Burke and representatives from the Bistro will give a full presentation on March 31.
President Bautista shared information about the state of university finances and strategic planning from the winter Board of Trustees meeting. The university has a $15 million deficit forecast for fiscal year (FY) 2023. In response, the university has developed a three- to four-year plan to realign revenue and expenses. Bautista noted that unusually small class sizes due to COVID-19 have impacted finances; lower enrollment means less tuition. Unless the university cuts back costs, there’s going to be a deficit for a while. If the university can increase enrollment to at least pre-pandemic levels, that would improve its ability to create a positive bottom line.
Bautista highlighted positives: “Willamette faces these challenges from a position of financial strength.” He noted that net assets have increased, and the endowment is at “record levels.” As Bautista reported last week, admissions are on target this year, which should translate into higher enrollment than in the past few, COVID-impacted years.
He also laid out some of the steps the university is taking to address the deficit. This includes reducing spending by $3 million for FY 2023; $1 million from “better review” of the budget, which should have little to no effect, and the other $2 million from various items across the budget, representing about a 2% reduction. Those reductions were made with “maintaining a quality student and academic experience for students in mind,” Bautista quoted.
Given current projections, the university expects to return to a positive bottom line in FY 2026.
The second part of Bautista’s report covered updates from the Capital Planning Task Force. Last year, Willamette refinanced, and is borrowing $17 million for deferred maintenance projects ($14m for facilities and $3m for information technology), partly because planned projects are costing more than expected due to construction costs going up. The university also borrowed $11 million for a “new program growth project” in Salem. The Capital Planning Task Force recommended using the borrowed money to address deferred maintenance and using future surplus to continue work on deferred maintenance. They also recommended remodeling the Atkinson Graduate School of Management (AGSM)’s Mudd building, a project which could also get money from fundraising and moving career services to a “more prominent” location on campus. Their final recommendation was to use the remaining borrowed money to update as many individual dorm rooms “as possible,” with more room updates to happen in the future with surplus.
The Board of Trustees is expected to approve a budget for the university in May, when they hold their spring meeting.