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Biddy Martin on Cornell's Budget

The Faculty Senate recently released minutes from its December meeting, and they are a doozy. Provost Martin spent around 30 minutes explaining the 2007-2008 budgeting process with faculty, and in the process many interesting items were revealed.

Among other things, the Provost feels that the University should have started the capital campaign a little bit earlier, the number of students requiring financial aid at Cornell has been decreasing, and that administrators are concerned that Cornell is losing top students to schools that offer merit-based scholarships.

All quotes are lifted right out of the meeting minutes, and are attributed to Biddy Martin, unless otherwise noted.

We have a challenge at Cornell. I know you all have heard me say this before, but it has the virtue of being true. We do more with less at Cornell, and I think that everybody here probably feels that, the effects of it, and either you take some pride in it, or you donít. But it remains the case that our endowment is smaller and our revenue streams in general are less than some of our peers, yet we manage to compete pretty well with all of those peers.

Iíve said this in the context of talking about the capital campaign, so I think most of you have heard it before, but Carolyn and I believe that we are about three to five years behind in raising the funds through a campaign, that we actually need to cover those things to which we have committed over the past six or seven years or even longer back. We hope, in the context of the campaign now that is in its public phase, to catch up quickly, to be able to bring in funds in our priority areas. But itís simply the case that we are behind, that is, we have committed to things and we are already doing things for which we have not raised enough money from gifts.

More from Biddy and others after the jump.


I think we need to take pride that we are one of the few remaining completely need-blind admit schools in the country. There are not that many left. Itís our goal to remain a need-blind admittance school and to provide enough financial aid to assure that we are accessible to students from all economic backgrounds. On the tuition side, we aim to stay in the middle of our peers, balancing tuition growth with adequate financial aid.

Contract residence students benefit from state appropriations when they increase. And the multi-year objective we have is to move the contract college non-resident tuition as close as we can get it to endowed tuition... The rate of growth (in tuition) has leveled a little bit over the past ten years. As you see we have been trying to set tuition no higher than two to three percent higher than the rate of inflation. Inflation is projected for this next year to be 3.5 percent. By the way, 58% of our contract college undergraduate students are in-state and pay resident tuition.

Forty-eight (percent of students) receive aid through grants but over 50 get financial aid of some sort. Actually the need-base population has gone down instead of up. But only slightly over the past couple of years.

At the moment, really even our folks in Albany who are sort of the sources of the latest gossip, about what might happen as a result of having a new governor, they say thereís just no way to tell. They are actually predicting what seems counterintuitive to me about what might occur the first year of Spitzerís governorship. But, as you know, Hunter Rawlings was appointed to the Governorís transition team and is the co-chair of the educational policy committee for Spitzerís transition. He has made, I think, every effort to show that heís a friend of higher education and that he will be a supporter of both SUNY and certainly of Cornell. I feel that the contacts that we have established by various means with Spitzer and his team and that continue to grow, actually those contacts, put us in a good position but also probably put SUNY in a good position. We are hopeful, but we really donít know exactly what heís going to do.

The only thing I would say is that Carolyn and I are much less aggressive than our Trustees would like us to be (in terms of tuition policy). Why would they like us to be more aggressive? Not simply because they think we can use the revenue well. I mean I hope they think we can use it well, but not simply because they think the revenue looks good. But we hope they really believe that those who can pay and those who canít benefit from what those who can afford to pay, pay. And that logic is sound to some extent, but I think you introduced one of the caveats. It is a delicate balancing act. I think we do probably need to be a little more aggressive than we were last year, because of where we now stand relative to our peers, and to keep the pressure on the budget in advance of the campaign, working to provide funds for our priority issues. But we wonít be quite as aggressive as you might hear some of your colleagues on the Board of Trustees are suggesting. Thanks a lot.

Some additional comments from others at the meeting:

Carolyn Ainslie, Vice President for Planning and Budget: When the state appropriations werenít going up, we changed our policy probably six or seven years ago, we pushed tuition, so actually the contract college tuitions grew between eight and ten percent over that same period. So we were trying to put that right, and this assumes that we get state appropriations increasing to be able to keep the tuition rate the same. If we donít get the state appropriations next year we are going to have to push tuition to keep the quality preserved.

Professor Ronald Ehrenberg, ILR: I would just point out to the group that one of the problems with raising tuition is not so much the financial aid population, but is what happens to the non-financial aid population, and therein lies the real danger of losing middle class, upper middle class students who are not eligible for financial aid who can get merit scholarships at competitors such as Washington University, St. Louis, and NYU. I think one of the reasons not to be very aggressive on tuition is I canít see too many negatives. One of the reasons to be careful about raising tuition, we will always gain more revenue by raising tuition by a greater amount, but we run a great risk of losing high-quality students who will be blown away by our aid. I know this is something that Carolyn is concerned about, and I hope we continue to track whatís happening to that population.Ē

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on March 19, 2007 (#)

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