President's Corner: Keeping the Legacy Healthy

In his first column, President Rochon shares joys, worries, a plan, and a request.

It is a pleasure to initiate this column in IC View, and I hope to be a regular visitor to these pages for years to come. I plan to use this column to share with you my perspective on some of the most important developments, challenges, and opportunities at Ithaca College. I hope you will also visit my blog, to which I post every couple of weeks:

The greatest privileges of my first months on the job have been getting to know our students and traveling around the country to meet with their parents and our alumni. From those who were students here 50 years ago and those who are students here today, I consistently hear certain themes about the character of an Ithaca College education.

One of these is that Ithaca College offers students the opportunity to be active partners in their learning — in studios, in laboratories, in the business trading room, on stage, in recital halls, at therapy tables, and in fieldwork settings, often beginning their very first semester. Freshmen do things at IC that are reserved for juniors and seniors — or even graduate students — at other colleges and universities.

It is remarkable the consistency with which students and alumni tell me about this aspect of their Ithaca education. This is a gratifying legacy, and I am pleased to be charged with making sure we continue to provide this special educational experience.

It will probably not surprise you to know that the greatest near-term challenge to that legacy is the current economic situation. One aspect of higher education leadership is, of course, to maintain a financially sound approach to the budget, ensuring academic quality now and protecting the future of the College. With the financial turmoil of recent months, that has been a challenging mandate. As is true of so many businesses and institutions, higher education has been deeply affected by the volatility of markets, the credit crunch, and the bleak economic outlook for the next several years.

The woes of the stock market have affected Ithaca College itself mainly by reducing the size of our endowment. Fortunately, thanks to an excellent investment strategy overseen by our board of trustees, the endowment has not suffered as much as the overall stock market. Of course, however, it has undergone a significant decline, thus reducing both our revenue (because part of our operating budget is drawn from the endowment) and our ability to borrow money (because the size of the endowment contributes to our creditworthiness). Similarly, the loss of liquidity in the credit system has driven up the cost of variable rate loans, on which IC depends to a significant degree. We borrow chiefly to fund buildings, the benefits of which are experienced by generations of students. Thus, when credit becomes more expensive, our costs rise. 

The biggest impact of the economic crisis on the College, though, comes through its effects on our students and their families. Some of our students have suffered financial reversals that will make it difficult for them to continue their education here. Many high school seniors may have to reevaluate their college plans, perhaps attending a public institution or even deferring college altogether.

This last impact of the economic crisis has fully mobilized our energies. We hope to make it possible for all Ithaca College students to continue their program regardless of changes in their own financial circumstances. So across campus, every staff and faculty member has made a firm commitment to reallocate internal resources and cut expenses. We will use the savings to boost financial aid for students.

We know we will also need to do everything we can to keep an Ithaca College education affordable for students now applying for admission. We are currently formulating the budget for 2009–10, and we began by pledging to initiate both the smallest percentage tuition increase in recent memory and the largest financial aid budget in College history.

As you see, we are doing everything possible as an institution to ensure that deserving students hoping to attend Ithaca won’t be prevented by the economic crisis from doing so. But even our most extraordinary efforts may not be enough.

Hence, I am encouraging you to give to the Ithaca Fund, and consider earmarking all or part of your gift to unrestricted use. With enough support from ICView readers — IC alumni, parents, employees, and friends — we’ll have the fiscal flexibility we need to allocate necessary resources to financial aid without compromising the quality of an IC education.

In times of crisis, the best solutions are reached when people band together for the common good. Please consider joining us in this extremely important endeavor.

Read President Rochon’s blog.