This spring I sent out a message to students, faculty and staff that recapped our financial position and our efforts to deal with the local effects of the current worldwide economic downturn. Terry Mitchell felt it would be helpful for me to include contents of that letter in Whitworth Today. Since I wrote the original letter, the economy has thrown us a few crumbs of good news, but it's still pretty bleak. To our blessed fortune, there is one thing that doesn't change with consumer confidence or various market indices. St. Paul reports that "God will supply all of our needs according to his riches in glory." So even amidst our pain, we have that going for us - and it doesn't get any better than that.
We find ourselves in both a strong position and a tenuous position. Our strength in this bear market comes from Whitworth's relatively modest reliance on endowment income in its operating budget, compared to what you would find in the "big endowment" institutions. We are a tuition-driven university, and for the last decade we have been in a very strong enrollment position. But being so dependent on admissions and retention is also our greatest point of vulnerability. We can't afford a hiccup on student enrollment, so we are keeping "retain and recruit" at the forefront of our institutional consciousness.
Even though we are not endowment-dependent, we do benefit greatly from our endowment's impact. Our endowment has dropped some $30 million in value from its high of nearly $100 million; however, we're anticipating that next year's $55 million budget will suffer less than $350,000 of lost endowment income. That's still a lot of money. We also expect to experience a decline in gifts to our annual fund. I would love to be wrong about that, but we want to plan conservatively.
Students. Our hope is that students feel no effects of this crisis on the quality of their education. We are assuming, however, that many students and their families will be drawing on diminished resources to pay for that education. This means that we have to divert a higher than usual percentage of new dollars to financial aid, while working harder to make sure our educational quality doesn't suffer. We need to watch and listen carefully for student reports of financial hardship, and even though our financial aid staff cannot always come to the rescue, they will always welcome students to explore with them what can be done. We want our current students to find the Whitworth experience too rich to leave, and we want prospective students to find Whitworth's minds and hearts too attractive to resist.
Faculty and Staff. Our first workforce priority is to avoid layoffs triggered by the economy. In every budget season we look for positions that have become unnecessary, and that practice will continue. But because we are already so lean we would rather hold down salary increases and reduce or eliminate the addition of new positions than start issuing pink slips.
Facilities. Construction is on schedule for our new residence hall. Unless enrollment drops, its building and operating costs will be covered by the additional revenues it creates. The first phase of the new science building is in a holding pattern. Our "Catch 22" is that the economy has made fund-raising much more difficult and the cost of tax-exempt bond financing more expensive, but it has also lowered our projected construction costs. We must be prudent, but we must also accept some level of risk. Our prosperity over the past two decades has resulted from investing in quality, and visitors to our campus comment frequently on the quality of our facilities and the pride of the people who maintain them.
Thank you. The people of Whitworth are to thank for the strength of our position. We have operated efficiently and conservatively. We are already doing much of what we see other universities implementing to cut costs. Faithful donors have recognized our stewardship and have invested generously in Whitworth.
I am extremely confident in a bright Whitworth future. In this issue of Whitworth Today I think you'll find reasons for confidence, too. From our features to the Class Notes, we find couriers of the Whitworth mission living lives of faith and service. I believe that even the most formidable external challenges pose less threat than weaknesses of the heart. And at the heart of this institution, we find immense strength. We find a great mind-and-heart mission, talented and committed workers, bright and energetic students, loyal and generous supporters, and a faithful God whose promises never fail. For all of these blessings, we are most grateful.