On Nov. 12, Student Senate held an open forum on finance operations for all students with Vice President for Finance Administration Bronté Burleigh-Jones. “I hear the rhetoric on campus that we’re in crisis and we’re simply not,” Burleigh-Jones said.
According to an email sent out to Dickinson College students this meeting was an opportunity for students to “ask questions and allow their voice to be heard” on finance operations.
Burleigh-Jones reaffirmed that the college is not in financial crisis and that the college has not been operating at a deficit. She explained that she did not want people to have the wrong message about the college and think that the college is operating at a deficit “because that is not the reality.”
Burleigh-Jones explained that while the college was planning for the graduation for the largest class, the college had not planned for such a small class for this year. However, the college maintained the reserves, which Burleigh-Jones explained where used to keep from making drastic cuts this year to accommodate the small class size. She explained that the reserves are “funds available for a rainy day,” and that the college has not operated on a deficit since 2002, when tuition was lower.
Burleigh-Jones explained that the college will not know Early Decision numbers until Dec. and by Feb. the college will know if it is on track to admit 600 students or not for the Class of 2024. There is uncertainty as to whether or not the small class size of the Class of 2023 was a one-time thing or if it is to be expected for the coming years. Burleigh-Jones presented a three-prong budget strategy that plans for different class sizes. She explained that “we are planning for three different scenarios so we are not surprised [and …] we don’t find ourselves making rash decisions.” The first budget has expected student enrollment of 575 students, the second budget has an expected student enrollment of 500 and the third budget model assumes 450-500 students annually.
Despite the small size of the class of 2023, there are still projects being planned and projects that have been recently completed that have not created a deficit for the college. The $4.7 million renovation and asbestos removal from East College was funded from the college’s reserve funds. This summer, the college invested $2.5 million into small house upgrades for new kitchens, windows, bathrooms, cabinets and counters. Burleigh-Jones explained that each year a significant amount of resources are put into residential spaces on campus. In 2022, Drayer Hall is scheduled for $12 million worth of work that will put the dorm offline for an entire academic year. Burleigh-Jones explained that Drayer is the highest priority in terms of residential spaces, as an outside contractor looked at the system and determined that it is in the biggest need of repairs compared to other residential spaces. After Drayer, the next biggest project will be the HUB dining project to enhance dining, expand the facility, and create more seating to make the facility more modern. There is also a want to create an additional student space. This project will roughly cost $40 million, and Burleigh-Jones explained that “we can easily borrow $25 million” and they will work with advancement on fundraising. She explained that they are continuing to work on the design of the space.
Burleigh-Jones explained that this year professors will be receiving a 2% salary increase. In recent academic years, professors were receiving 1.5% and 1% increases, despite the college standard being a 3% increase.
Burleigh-Jones then explained that “there is no student who attends Dickinson College who is truly a full-paying student because when you take the amount of money it takes to run this institution and then divide it by the number of students, it is not that much.” She then presented a table that showed that the cost per student is $83,909 but the school charges $68,000 to maintain small class sizes and other programs that are important to the college.
Finally, Burleigh-Jones explained that Dickinson received an A+ rating on the Standard and Poor’s credit rating and “was affirmed with a “stable outlook” designation,” according to the Dickinson College website. Burleigh-Jones said “to have that kind of dip in your enrollment and not be downgraded [in credit], that means you are running a stable organization.”
Student Senate President Kevin Ssonko ’20 questioned if diversity on campus will decrease due to an increase in the price of tuition, but Burleigh-Jones rebutted, explaining that we have more diversity on campus now than when our tuition was lower and that the average Dickinsonian graduates with less debt than the national average because of the college’s commitment to financial aid and providing scholarships to students of all socioeconomic classes. She explained that there are students across the spectrum, with different abilities to pay, but the ones that are able to pay in full generate quite a bit of money, and if the tuition were to be lowered, then the college would be losing money from people who can pay in full.
Student Senate Director of Inclusivity Kaliph Brown ’20 questioned the reasoning behind the creation of the high street residence and the elimination of off-campus housing as a way for the college to get more money. Burleigh-Jones explained that the college is specifically a four-year residential college, and that the college did not get rid of off-campus housing to make money. She explained that once the new residence hall was built, there was no need to renew the leases on other housing off-campus, as there was residence space for students on campus. “Finances didn’t drive that [elimination of off-campus housing], the mission of the college drove that,” Burleigh-Jones said.
Other members of Student Senate had positive reactions to the forum. Nadia Shahab-Diaz ’21 said that she appreciated Burleigh-Jones’ presentation. “Transparency in regard to our financial situation is important to maintaining morale, and more students need to be aware that the College is not in a state of crisis,” she said.
Erika Faulkner ’20 shared sentiments about the administration’s transparency with students. I was happy to see that the presentation she gave to the faculty was the same she gave to the students,” she said.