Urgo's Open Letter to College


    The Point News:

    The Board of Trustees has approved a four percent increase to tuition rates for next year. The discussion on the increase was lively, with substantial and thoughtful input from students, faculty, and staff. In the end, the trustees continued to hold to the key aspects of our mission: balancing access and affordability with a rigorous academic program.

    Our operating budget totals about $70 million; over $34 million pays salaries and benefits for about 420 faculty and staff, over $6 million to scholarships and financial aid, and about $27 million pays for ongoing programmatic and operational expenses. A major portion of our budget funds the mundane articles that support everyday College life—things such as maintaining our facilities, paying for utilities, and covering rising employee benefit charges. In a typical year, routine repairs and increases in these areas exceed $1 million.

    We’re in the fifth year of the global recession and there are signs of slow improvement. Several sources of revenue, such as interest earnings on our endowment, are beginning to recover but not at a pace that meets all of our budget challenges. The state continues to provide support, but the rate of growth is slower than in past years. College leadership must prioritize what is most important as the economy slowly recovers. The direction supported by our students, staff, faculty, and trustees is remarkably consistent. First, we want to prepare our budget so that it pays the faculty and staff fairly for their good work. The trustees were clear that we should, at our first opportunity, provide salary increases to those members of our community who are paid the least and those who have not had increases for three years. We have a plan to budget for those increases. While we remain under a wage freeze, we are ready for when the thaw begins. We also know that the Governor’s proposal would increase wages by two percent for all employees on January 1, 2013. That’s an important first step and we look forward to moving beyond the base when we are able to do so. Second, we must continue to support the rigor of the academic program. After attempting to include new faculty positions in the budget for four years, but failing to fund them, the budget that will be submitted to the trustees in April, will propose two new faculty lines. Third, we will continue to fund the financial aid budget and include allowance for shortfalls in endowment income. And, of course, we’ll continue to actively encourage philanthropy that supports student scholarships, particularly in support of students with financial need.

    The Board will be asked to approve next year’s budget at its May meeting. My goal is to bring a budget that supports St. Mary’s College and its educational mission. I want to thank the members of the community who have spoken with me to articulate their budget priorities. I also thank Tom Botzman for his public presentations of the budget, and for maintaining an open process as we plan for next year’s expenses.


    Joseph R. Urgo