Dear faculty and staff,
As many of you know, May 1 was “Decision Day,” the day by which our accepted students finalize their choice of Ithaca College by paying their deposits and committing to enroll here in the fall.
While we do accept deposits past Decision Day, after May 1 we are able to make a highly accurate prediction of the size of our incoming first-year class. Based on our deposits so far, we expect our incoming first-year class size for 2019-20 to be approximately 1,450 students, after accounting for typical summer melt. This would bring our total projected undergraduate enrollment to about 5,475, in addition to approximately 400 full-time graduate students.
Heading into this year’s application season in the fall, the college had projected an incoming first-year class size between 1,619 and 1,630, and our draft FY20 budget was created with that range in mind. We now anticipate that the draft FY20 budget will need to be adjusted to account for a projected revenue decrease of $4.6 million to reflect this smaller number of incoming first-year students.
What this news means—and what it does not mean
I know that this news is not ideal, but it is not entirely unexpected. As we have been discussing together for some time, Ithaca College is among many private, residential institutions around the country that are tuition-dependent and grappling with shifting demographics that greatly impact our student population. The number of college-bound students from the Northeast—our traditional base—has been declining and will continue to decline over the decades to come. In addition, the college has been predicting a temporary decrease in enrollment in the 2019-2020 academic year, due to the fact that an unusually large class graduates in 2019.
Cost is also a tremendous issue for the majority of colleges and universities, as we see families that are increasingly reluctant to take on high tuition costs even when the earning potential of that degree clearly points to a very good financial return on that investment—as it does with Ithaca College.
Overall, the projection of Ithaca College’s financial health remains strong despite this year’s smaller incoming class. However, this projection of health is based on a campus-wide commitment to develop and implement a strategic plan that will help align our financial structure with our strategic direction created to ensure that Ithaca College is fully ready for tomorrow’s students.
Balancing next year’s budget will require lean operations, but by recognizing the urgency to make strategic changes now, we can work together to create a roadmap for the college’s continued future success.
What you can expect, what you can do
This week, as planned, the senior leadership team is submitting the draft FY20 budget to the Board of Trustees in advance of their May 17-19 meetings. The board is scheduled to vote on next year’s budget during these meetings, and I will be in touch with you with more details after our trustees meet. The college’s senior leadership team also is continuing ongoing efforts to identify additional ways to generate savings and increase non-tuition revenue for next year.
In the meantime, I ask that you do two very important things:
Get involved in the strategic plan. We are very fortunate to have undertaken an intense and ambitious strategic planning process together this past year. It sets us up well to begin next year, and the next five years, with a clear path forward. As my charge to the steering committee outlined, we have an urgent need but also an incredible depth of existing strength to position Ithaca College for a very long and exciting future, if we act swiftly and boldly.
The ideas that came out of the planning process—distilled from work done this year and in recent years by faculty, staff, and students all across campus—contain powerful potential to reduce our dependence on tuition, curb our expenses, draw on our strengths, and double-down on our commitment to being a distinctively student-centered community that transforms students’ lives and generates enthusiasm for Ithaca College well beyond our region. I am fully confident that if we do the work outlined in that plan, our enrollment will only become healthier, and our budgets will only become more diverse and sustaining.
Please plan to come to one of two open forums, tomorrow, May 9, and Friday, May 10, to begin thinking with us about how we can most effectively begin to implement the strategic plan.
Welcome and support our students. Students value Ithaca College for the supportive, personalized, genuine attention we offer them, and I know that so many of you feel a great sense of pride in the ways in which you shape our students’ lives. Your deep commitment to your work contributes significantly to their education and to their overall IC experience. Keep making those powerful connections and important moments with our students, and with their families and our alumni.
Continue to be involved in the life of this institution. For example, volunteer to be a part of our incredible Commencement weekend. Help our new students get acquainted with IC at orientation. Assist our students and their families on one of the days when they need it most: Move-In Day, on August 20. It is an amazingly fun event, and we really do need all hands on deck. These are just three of countless ways to get involved in our campus community.
I want to thank all of you for your dedication to supporting our students and to advancing the exciting new vision and plan for Ithaca College as it comes into sharper focus.
Shirley M. Collado