The second Board of Trustees meeting of the year convened on February 11th. The morning session consisted of the President’s Report and a presentation by Fr. Francis Morrisey, a professor of Canon Law, where Catholic sponsorship was discussed.
In the afternoon, the Trustees discussed on-campus housing, approved a tuition increase for the following year, and acknowledged that the next President of St. Scholastica should be a Catholic (though this would not preclude the hiring of an exceptional non-Catholic applicant).
Dr. Goodwin, in his president’s address, discussed student aid, specifically the Pell Grant and the Minnesota State Grant. Both of these grants are “on the table” this year because Minnesota is trying to cut costs. The MN State Grant and the Pell Grant both aid around 900 students each on our campus. A decrease in these grants could negatively impact those students ability to pay for their education.
In an attempt to prevent such an adverse change, the President traveled to the Capitol with student representatives to lobby for continued support of the Minnesota State Grant this past week on Community Day. The President and the student representatives met with state representatives and senators to voice their concern about the grants being reduced and to advocate for the state to leave the grants alone.
During his president’s address, Dr. Goodwin also commented on the state of the Graduate, Extended, and Online (GEO) programs at the College. The College did not meet the projected growth markers, likely because the growth markers were quite aggressive for an already well developed area of higher education. The growth numbers will be adjusted for next year to reflect a more modest growth (one more consistent with what actually occurred this year).
The presentation by Fr. Morrisey on sponsorship of the College was given to clarify the relationship between Canon Law and Civil Law. The Trustees wanted to make sure that in moving forward, the College would not take any action that would jeopardize it’s Catholic status. This presentation was mainly for educational purposes, but will help guide the decisions the Trustees make in the future.
The Trustees have been acutely aware of the housing issues for the past two years and are actively seeking ways to solve the housing strains. Among other challenges, several problems have slowed the possibility of creating additional housing: The primary types of housing needed are additional suites. Such additions would pull Freshman and Sophomores into Somers, improving student retention rates and allowing for more upper class students to stay on campus. This addition would be costly (estimated around $15M), and because of other projects underway, the College’s credit rating would be adversely effected by additional construction.
The Trustees had hoped to build additional housing by going through a third party (off-balance sheet) builder, but because of the location and type of housing the College needs, this would not be a viable option. Moving forward with additional housing would adversely effect the College’s credit rating. Though a great disappointment to the Trustees, providing additional student housing will need to be held off until around 2014 or 2015.
During the business portion of the meeting, the Trustees approved a 4% increase in undergraduate tuition, a 3% average increase in the GEO programs, and 3% increases for room and board for the 2010-11 year. The Trustees, concerned with this yearly increase, discussed this topic at length. The discussion ended in approval of the tuition raise, but the reservations voiced by the Trustees should lead to deeper discussion regarding these types of raises in the future.
Though our school’s increases are proportional (and conservative) when measured by our comparables, the concern is that the increase is still greater than the inflation rate. What makes this discussion difficult is the value prospective students place on the price of an institution, as well as the acknowledgement that these increases reflect general trends in the cost of higher education.
The discussion about our school’s Catholic identity, its sponsorship, and whether or not the president should be Catholic has unfolded over the past year. The result of these discussions was a motion regarding the type of president the College would give preference to in the future. The Trustees moved that “in presidential searches, [the College] is committed to seeking a qualified academic leader who is Roman Catholic.” The resolution does not preclude hiring an exceptional non-Catholic president, but acknowledges that the College would actively seek out exceptional Roman Catholic applicants.
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