Columbian College in financial pinch after enrollment decline

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Sam Johnson

Ben Vinson, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences was hired in 2013. He is one of nine black officials named to top posts at GW.

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences is asking departments to cut spending after an enrollment drop saddled the school with its first financial decline in years.

Dean Ben Vinson and Provost Steven Lerman confirmed that the college was considering ways to cut departments’ budgets, but said no decisions had been made.

A 4-percent enrollment drop took a small bite out of the college’s about $100 million budget in part because fewer people nationally are enrolling in graduate programs, especially the humanities.

“We are a tuition-driven university, and whither goes tuition revenue, so goes the budget,” Lerman said Thursday. “There are other resources, of course, but in the big picture, we need a certain amount of tuition revenue to deliver the educational programs. Clearly, declines in tuition revenue makes us do things differently.”

He added that the college did not meet revenue expectations by a couple percentage points, not “radical declines.”

The college will ask departments to pare back travel budgets or hire fewer adjuncts or graduate teaching assistants, and raise revenue by winning back graduate student enrollment, Lerman said.

Vinson said in statement in a statement that the college “is taking proactive steps to ensure the financial health of the college and its programs…These efforts are ongoing and we are confident that the integrity of our academic programs will be fully protected.”

The losses are the first after the college projected huge growth in graduate enrollment as part of its financial plan four years ago, helping the grow the faculty. Until this year, that had come true, helping Columbian College add three dozen faculty positions in four year.

The cuts also come as several other colleges at GW have grappled with how to manage its bottom line.

The GW School of Business overspent its budget by $13 million last academic year, leading to the firing of former dean Doug Guthrie. The GW Law School has also dealt with a precipitous national application decline, forcing it to raise its acceptance rate by more than 15 percentage points to enroll enough students to ensure its financial health.

Meanwhile, departments are figuring out how to cut back or reallocate resources – and being told to do it quietly.

Richard Robin, director of the Russian language department, said he was given a “direct order” not to discuss the cuts. He said he was part of the team responsible for making the cuts in his department.

Graduate students in the English department received emails last week from acting chair Gayle Wald informing them that they would not be offered classes to teach next year.

“The College is in a serious and time-sensitive financial crunch, and all departments are taking immediate hits,” she said in an email obtained by The Hatchet.

Professors in other departments said they have been hearing about the planned cuts because of declining Columbian College enrollment, but had not yet learned details.

Joseph Fruscione, an adjunct professor of University Writing, said that department would likely not be affected because most of its faculty are full-time and must teach across all colleges. He said he first heard about the cuts last week in “hallway chatter.”

Fruscione, who earned his Ph.D. in English from GW said he taught as an adjunct to make extra money while a student, and would have been affected by the cuts.

“I think Columbian College would be hit the hardest anyways, because it’s particularly within the humanities, especially romance languages,” he said.

Some departments are also moving to find ways to make extra money, not just cut costs. Diana Lipscomb, chair of the biology department, said her department would teach an additional summer course to bring in more money for the college, since there are no adjunct faculty teaching in biology.

– Cory Weinberg and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

This post was updated Feb. 27, 2014 at 7:15 p.m. to reflect the following:

Correction appended
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that most University Writing faculty are adjuncts. Most are full-time professors, though many are not on a tenure track.

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