Olivet has saved approximately $3 million out of the $7 million it plans to save by the end of this two-year-long financial freeze, according to Dr. Doug Perry, Vice President of Finance.
The university is still on track with the president’s ten-step plan of “multiplication and subtraction” to return the university to the “sweet spot” that it has been in for most of the past 25 years, and Perry believes that the university will return to a stable point by 2018.
“We’re not in trouble,” Perry said. “This is just a state of imbalance.”
Bowling introduced his plan in February during his annual State of the University address. He’s given such an address every spring since the 2008 recession hit.
Last November, Bowling told the GlimmerGlass, “What started on Wall Street and moved to main street has come to University Avenue.”
Bowling wants to ensure that the university stays financially secure “when we start to get a little hint that the dynamics are changing.”
The weight that tipped the scale
Nationally, education is in a decline, according to Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Houston Thompson. During Thompson’s assessment of Olivet’s undergraduate programs, he looked for opportunities for growth in departments and ways of running the academic side of the university more efficiently.
“We have a lean and tight academic program,” Thompson said. “Departments across campus are doing a really good job with managing our resources. Some of our programs have a lot of students and the faculty are carrying full loads with full classes.”
Over the past two to three years, Olivet hired over a 100 new employees. This was “a lot of people” for Olivet to bring in during this period of time, Perry said.
The school has also been “very generous” with student scholarships with “very few” students paying the full price of tuition. The university gives over $50 million in scholarships. It plans to reign in scholarships in the future.
Bowling’s ten-step plan is temporary
Bowling described the tenets of the plan as “short term commitments” that are preemptive. The main goal of this plan is for each of Olivet’s vice president’s to cut spending by approximately 10.2 percent.
“I’m saying basically in effect to my staff that we’re not in a crisis mode, and, if we act now, we can avoid financial hardships,” Bowling said.
Bowling’s plan includes, among other things, freezing “all new hiring.” This means that if an Olivet faculty member retires, the university will review whether or not the department affected can do without the position for a year.
“We have our library director, Kathy Boyens, who worked for several years, retired,” Bowling said. “Rather than replacing her this year, we have appointed an interim librarian one of the staff, very capable. That will save us a year.”
Other parts of Bowling’s plan include increasing revenue. The president and his A-team are focused on growing their graduate studies programs which have a high return.
Layoffs were unavoidable
With the elimination of one faculty position, the university did not succeed in the president’s goal of avoiding layoffs during this financially difficult time—a goal that he set in the fall of 2015. According to Bowling, over half of the operating budget goes to faculty salaries and benefits, and the decision to eliminate the position was made by assessing the need of each department by credit hours. Overall, Olivet has lost over 50 employees in retirements and layoffs.
“It’s funny because in some ways those are the kind of decisions from a stewardship standpoint–managing God’s resources here–that you should make whether you have a lot of resources or not,” he said.
The cost of an employee is not only in salary, but also in benefits such as health insurance, the president noted. In the past, certain positions have been eliminated because of the university outsourcing the services provided by those positions.
“We used to have a full complement of employees that would photograph,” he said. “But we outsourced that. We now bring in a company.”
Record enrollment and donations
Olivet did, however, hit its goal enrollment of anywhere between 700-750 incoming freshman.
The numbers for enrollment in ONU Global and Olivet’s Graduate School program are “the best they’ve ever been.” Olivet is also talking more with major donors. Hosted over the summer, the “President’s Gathering” sought to bring in 50 couples who were “high capacity folks.” In one weekend, over $6 million was raised.
Bowling is optimistic about the total number of donations that have come into the school in the past year giving the school a record total amount raised in donations: over $12.5 million. This is twice that of what any of Olivet’s peer institutions have raised.
“The last count I heard … last year, we had 7,000 or 8,000 different people who made some level of contributions,” he said. “We’re really trying to continue that side of our work, and that’s always the case with private institutions. You always have to raise money.”
Tuition may freeze
Apart from Bowling’s plan, the university is researching whether or not it has reached the “maximum level of [tuition] pricing.” Administrators are studying the effects of freezing or possibly cutting tuition.
“I think students won’t feel any decrease in program or quality,” he said. “That’s what we’re working on, to keep those things strong. If you cut that, you really cut off your future.”
Bowling and administrators fear getting “priced out” by other universities.
“Someone says well why would I go there if I could go somewhere else for $5,000 less,” he said. “Now the net cost of attendance might be the same, but that’s not the first thing you think about”
Christian schools looking into creating a financial association
Bowling also indicated that Nazarene schools as well as other Christian colleges are looking into the idea of creating a consortium in the case of losing federal funding. The consortium would work with banks or financial institutions that could provide them with loans.
“So say students can’t get MAP grants ever. They can’t get Stanford loans. They can’t get federal funds. If that goes off the table, we’re very vulnerable because lots of students depend on that,” he said. “It doesn’t pay the whole bill, but it’s enough to make a difference.”
Not the first mountain Bowling has climbed
When the president gave his address in February, it was the tenth anniversary of his climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
“I remember thinking ‘Here’s this mountain, this problem,’” Bowling said. “That’s not the first mountain I’ve tackled. One of the things the mountain experience teaches you, is you just keep going. Little by little you get to a plateau you get another view, you catch your breath and you just keep going.”
— Nathan DiCamillo, News Editor