Everything's Gonna Be All Right
A couple of days ago my friend Jim Melvin, president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation and one of the founding fathers of the Elon University School of Law, told me he was inducting me into the EGBAR club, originally founded by Greensboro attorney and entrepreneur Sidney Stern. There were no dues or meetings, just a requirement to maintain a positive, optimistic attitude about the world. EGBAR is an acronym for “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right.”
With the Dow hovering just about 8,000, dismal holiday sales, unemployment rising, and the real estate and financial markets a mess, maintaining an optimistic viewpoint takes a little effort. But as I have often commented, if you spend your days surrounded by 5,000 Elon students, you can’t help but think bright thoughts about the long term.
Of course, in building next year’s budget and beyond, the university budget committee, the trustees and I do not have our heads in the sand. Like every household, business and institution, we are tightening our belts. But Elon’s financial situation is structurally different from those of the nation’s wealthiest, best-endowed universities, which have announced unprecedented budget cuts and hiring freezes due to dramatic downturns in their investment portfolios. Because of its modest endowment, Elon’s budget has always been built almost exclusively on tuition revenue. (This has always been the case at Elon, and with 58 percent of our alumni base in their 20s and 30s, this promises to remain so for at least a generation.) Fortunately, our application numbers for next fall remain robust, increasingly national in scope and of very high quality. Like all private institutions, we will work with extra care to reach our fall enrollment target. Thankfully, we are experiencing no unusual downturn in spring 2009 enrollment.
In preparing next year’s budget, I have asked the budget committee to keep several important goals in mind: to protect academic quality and, to every extent feasible, continue to make strategic investments in the faculty, academic programs and the learning-focused mission of the campus; to recommend a smaller tuition, room and board increase than last year; to continue to expand need-based financial aid as much as possible; and to reward our most important resource for students — faculty and staff — to every degree possible. This is a Herculean task, given other challenges, such as rising health insurance costs and unpredictable energy prices. In order to meet this challenge, budget committee members are working to exact every efficiency they can find and to reallocate resources to the highest priorities.
Elon’s efficiency and discipline have earned the university recognition in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and Princeton Review/USA Today as one of the nation’s top 50 best value private universities, combining excellent academics with reasonable costs. In Kiplinger’s ranking, Elon has the lowest total annual cost, more than $5,000 lower than the second-ranked institution and well over $10,000 lower than most other schools on the best value list.
To ensure that Elon remains a great value and affordable over the long term, it is essential that the Ever Elon Campaign achieve success. Building the endowment to increase scholarship support for students is the campaign’s top priority, and we have raised more than 60 percent of the $100 million goal. This is the first major campaign in Elon’s history with principally an endowment focus and represents a crucial step toward securing the university for future generations. In the meantime, Elon, which has often been compared to “The Little Engine That Could,” will continue to move forward, to spend every dollar wisely and to work within a budget guided by the student- and learning-focused priorities of the campus.