Cash rules everything around me,” — including the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) budget, Pacific University’s sticker price and financial aid driven discount rates. Or maybe not?
As CAS Dean Sarah Phillips explains, Pacific is a non-profit university much more focused on simply covering its expenses than drawing in as much revenue as possible. But even this can pose a challenge as reports dictate a slight downward shift in the general amount of high school graduates in the United States, and therefore entering the university arena.
“I anticipate that next year we will again be a little bit smaller, so we’re looking at how to handle our budget there — trying to do that with as little impact as possible,” Phillips says as the college actively configures its 2020-21 budget. “But, we just don’t know an exact amount yet.”
As students can’t help their frustration regarding consistent tuition raises, Phillips remains equally sympathetic to their plight and adamant the university increases the budget the smallest amount possible while still providing the education promised to students.
“In the absence of an endowment that covers all of our rising costs, we have to find that funding somewhere,” the Dean said. “We try to keep the increase small enough that for each individual student, it’s not an overwhelming increase — no one is going to like it — but it’s not overwhelming, especially for returning students.”
It’s become common for students, especially at open forums featuring President Lesley Hallick, to voice their complaints over high tuition rates and the university’s large discount rate which serves as tuitions pseudo “great equalizer.” Questions like, “But if you just cut tuition rates, you could cut the discount rate too and save money,” swirl to no avail. But, it’s not that simple according to administrative members of CAS.
Pacific actually did reduce their discount rate, or financial aid given, to this year’s incoming freshman class, but Phillips says the university will have to wait and see if they can retain that based on financial neediness. She also fears the potentially negative results of cutting aid while simultaneously cutting tuition rates, confusing students and making their collegiate transition worse.
However, Pacific has made progress in offering returning students more aid to offset yearly tuition increases. “I don’t want students facing a tough financial decision after being here for three years, getting to their senior year, and saying, ‘I don’t know how to finish my degree,” — I don’t want that ever,” Phillips explained.
This, combined with a projected halt to the downward trend in housing and meal plan revenue seen last year, ensures not all budget talk in negative, as Phillips notes. “There are two times you can play; one is when you’re getting bigger and the other is when you’re getting smaller,” she said.
The university is currently having faculty look into their major studies, class offerings and what new opportunities they can explore based on these student demographic shifts. With high hopes of encouraging students out of their comfort zone, Pacific will also be welcoming the Master of Social Work program to its Forest Grove campus in addition to its Eugene base as well as looking into the potential major of engineering, according to Phillips.
Reflecting on the 2019-20 budget arranged last year, CAS is pleased with the outcomes it’s seeing via the university’s big ticket change: Bon Appétit replacing dining service Aramark.
Phillips has heard early positive comments like that of freshman Devin Simmer and junior Haley Dysle who noted the “diversity of meals” Bon Appétit presents to students like organic, vegetarian and even vegan options.
“The reason I like hearing that is because it makes it more likely faculty and staff will actually eat in the dining hall and have the opportunity to hold casual conversations with students over lunch or dinner,” Phillips said. “And, if it makes faculty, staff and students more likely to spend time together, I think it’s the right thing for the college to do.”