In the midst of a difficult financial climate, universities across the country spent the 2008 to 2009 academic year grappling with shrinking endowments, declining contributions, and reductions in federal and state aid. Wesleyan was among several institutions that implemented changes to long-term financial goals and reaffirmed commitments to key financial areas.
The University’s endowment continued to decline over the course of the academic year. In January, its endowment stood at $488 million—a 32 percent loss since its peak in late 2007. As President Michael Roth told the campus community during a March 2009 Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) meeting, “Our pessimistic predictions were not pessimistic enough.”
These significant declines led to tough choices for the University as it attempted to bolster its funds. The Board of Trustees voted to increase student enrollment by 30 students in each class year starting with the class of 2013. Over the next four years, the campus population will increase by 120 students, and the added students will generate four million dollars of revenue for the University per year when the plan is completely active.
In addition to an increased student body, tuition increased by 3.8 percent for the 2009 to 2010 school year. This hike was less than the originally proposed increase of 5.9 percent. For the current academic year, the comprehensive fee for freshmen and sophomores stands at $51,132, and juniors and seniors will pay a comprehensive fee of $52,640.
In spite of the University’s limited resources, the Administration’s strong commitment to financial aid has not been deterred. Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts reiterated the University’s commitment to providing financial aid for students in need.
“The Wesleyan Board and administration [are] strongly committed to a robust financial aid program,” he wrote. “We are currently planning more than an 8 percent increase to the financial aid budget for next year, and we plan to continue to support this program in the future.”
Although many of the University’s peer institutions implemented a faculty hiring freeze for the 2009 academic year, Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees voted against such a measure. Department chairs were informed that all hiring requests would be carefully reviewed and that not all requests would be approved.
“When it’s made very clear [that] our priority is having a first rate faculty, that generates goodwill from the faculty,” said Joseph Rouse, the Chair of the Science in Society Program. “It reflects the institution’s sense of its priorities and I think people understand and respect that.”
During the second semester, the University announced that eligible administrative employees with at least 15 years of service would have the option of taking the Voluntary Separation Program (VSP). Through the VSP, several employees retired in June with a generous financial package. The positions of the employees who chose to retire will not be refilled.
“This is a way to avoid layoffs, by offering people a package that will allow them to start retirement earlier than they would,” President Roth told The Argus in an interview from spring semester.
Due to the budget shortfall and the University’s commitment to a low student-to-professor ratio and course access for students, professors were given the opportunity to expand their course loads for the 2009-2010 academic year. Professors who agreed to teach an additional course are being compensated comparable to professors who teach Graduate Liberal Studies Program (GLSP) courses. Writing Creative Nonfiction, a course taught by Adjunct Professor of English Anne Greene, was divided into two smaller sections for the fall semester. This initiative will continue to be supported by $1 million in anonymous donations.
After the collapse of the American International Group (AIG), the Freeman Asian Scholars program, which was created and mostly funded by one of the original founders of AIG, was significantly reduced. The Freeman Foundation cut its contributions to the scholarship program in half; and the class of 2013 only has 11 Freeman scholars from 11 Asian countries, instead of the usual 22.
Although current financial forecasts have shown an improvement in the economy, the financial crisis will continue to affect the University in the coming years.