Simmons, SGA hold Q&A session amid rumors concerning budget

by Matt Lash, Sports Editor

INDIANOLA, Iowa — The Student Government Association hosted a Q&A panel Wednesday night with college administrators to help clarify rumors surrounding Simpson College’s financial situation.

A program review of academic courses, enrollment, student organizations and Simpson athletics is underway. It will include the overall budget of the college, enrollment, academic departments under review, student organizations’ budgets and how student life will be affected academically and socially on campus.

“Once we’re through with this, our intention is our students will be better served, in fact, by the program review and the changes that we’ll make as a consequence of it,” President Jay Simmons said.

Rather than cutting professors’ salaries, Simpson officials elected to implement furlough days for this academic year.

“There’s a graduated scale,” Simmons said. “So that depending on a teacher’s salary level, they could see anywhere from one to five furlough days this year. We try to make sure they happen on days when most of us are expected to be at work anyway, but on days that have less of an impact on student activities.”

For example, Simmons expects many professors will be taking furlough days on the Thursday and Friday entering fall break because he knows they will be on campus during that time, but students won’t be directly affected.

“We’re trying to make sure they happen at a time when students feel it the least,” Simmons said. “Hopefully they won’t feel it at all.”

With other private schools conducting similar reviews, including Grand View University and Wartburg College in the last few years, Simmons wants to assure current and prospective students, faculty and staff Simpson College will be around for many years to come.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had to do this,” Simmons said. “It’s not uncommon and we’re all looking for ways to position ourselves so we don’t have these kinds of budget shortfalls in the future.”

Overall enrollment in higher education across the United States has been consistently down for the last four years, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Iowa may be worse off, enrollment wise, than the rest of the country.

“Iowa is the state that has had the biggest decline in overall participation in higher education of any state in the U.S. in percentage terms,” Simmons said.

With rumors of abnormally low enrollment for this entering class, Simmons felt it necessary to clear the air about the issue.

“You know, people say its super low, and it’s actually not,” he said. “Yes, we’re smaller than we’ve been the last few years, but historically we’re actually much closer to our norm.”

However, the main issue remains: a budgeting shortfall, not a financial weakness.

Simpson is in the top third of colleges and universities nationwide in endowment funds, Simmons said, meaning the college has money, they’re not bankrupt or going broke. The current issues are arising from poor planning while preparing and implementing the operating budget for the fiscal year.

“We have very little debt and our overall composite financial index scores (a standardized method of examining a number of financial factors and reporting stability) are very high. That’s not the issue,” Simmons said. “It’s how do we take care of our operating budget so we have a healthier operating budget next year and the year after.”

With plans to address the cost of attendance for current and prospective students, Simpson is pleased with this year’s comprehensive fee and increase in tuition. At 3.9 percent, this increase is the lowest it’s been at Simpson in nearly 30 years, according to a report Simpson published in August.

“Particularly at a time when we’re seeing support for state institutions go down, we think there’s an opportunity for us to help folks understand not only are we affordable, but we can actually give students some things they can’t receive at other institutions,” Simmons said.

The main focuses of the program review this year will be the budgeting shortfall, reassessing enrollment issues and strategizing how to better serve Simpson students.

With no specific deadline, Simmons and the campus administration working on it expect the review to take the whole academic year and plan to publish a report for the academic department review after the fall semester, and a similar report for the student organizations and enrollment at the end of this academic year.