As we begin 2021, higher education continues to be an industry in crisis – with declining enrollments, unpopular public sentiment, and reduced funding support from state and federal governments, all while families are questioning the value of a higher education experience. It is difficult to predict what the future will bring.
Academic year 2019-2020 found Wells College in financial stress following several years of continuing operational deficits compounded by the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic which forced an end to in-person instruction in mid-March 2020. Unexpected costs were incurred for labor, materials, supplies, testing and other expenses required for reopening the College in fall 2020, and to ensure operating as a safe campus community for the academic year. The College’s base operating budget forecasts continuing deficits through 2024 unless significant, successful changes are made to the business model.
Recognizing this severe fiscal crisis, the President’s Cabinet identified priority initiatives within the strategic objectives — priorities that are based upon their anticipated contribution to improved financial performance, their centrality to the College mission, or their impact on overall campus operations. These priority initiatives, taken together, are expected to yield increased net revenue, following significant investments toward new academic and support programs.
The expenses and revenues in the strategic financial plan are projected amounts that are over and above those included in the College’s base operating budget. The fundamental goal of the strategic financial plan is to eliminate the operational deficits in the base budget within the next four years. Information provided in the financial plan provides a guide for decisions on priorities and allows for testing of assumptions prior to investing resources into new initiatives.
The strategic financial plan classifies each strategic plan initiative as contributing to the College in one of four ways:
- Core Academic Operations: Initiatives to strengthen and expand the academic degree programs offered by the College
- Ancillary Revenue Operations: Initiatives to generate revenue through workforce training, non-credit programs and facility rentals
- Support Initiatives: Initiatives to strengthen support for academic and non-academic programs
- Infrastructure Initiatives: Initiatives to update policies and practice, improve facilities and enhance technology
In addition, the strategic financial plan provides a roadmap for increasing revenue in three categories:
- Increase in Net Tuition Revenue (NTR)
- Increase in new first-year and transfer students
- Increase in retention of continuing/returning students
- Development of new academic curricular and co-curricular programs
- Increase in Diversified Fundraising
- Increase in annual giving
- Increase in endowment giving
- Increase number of state and federal grant applications
- Increase in foundation support
- Increase in Diversification of Revenue Sources
- Increase in use of campus facilities by outside groups
- Development of partnerships with other institutions
- Development of workforce collaborations
We are addressing all three of these revenue sources proactively through the priority initiatives in the strategic plan, defining targeted investments in the first two years that will achieve sustained financial viability for Wells College and continue to build on our mission, vision and purpose.
In Fiscal Year 2020 (school year 2019 – 2020), Wells College revenue sources were primarily from:
(1) Residential Undergraduate Net Revenue
(2) Private Donations, Grants and Endowment Funds (see the chart, above left).
The strategic initiatives provide a path for Wells to diversify our portfolio by adding:
(1) Residential Graduate Studies through partnerships,
(2) Expand our successful Florence Study Program,
(3) Expand our Auxiliary Programs (Book Arts, Learning by the Lake and others) while strengthening our Residential Undergraduate experience and capabilities (see the chart, above right). The revenue growth forecasted over this four-year period is greater than 50 percent.