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Trustees hold retreat on campus

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 02:02

 

On retreat in Gambier last weekend, the Board of Trustees approved a budget, heard lectures on finance and technology and the East Coasters among them made it home before winter storm Nemo came to bear.

While next year’s tuition and fees will not be finalized until this spring, the Board plans to approve a 3.75 — percent rate of increase, bringing tuition and fees to approximately $56,813 for 2013-2014.

“To contextualize, the average rate of increase for all colleges last year was 3.77 percent,” President S. Georgia Nugent said. “So we’re consciously trying to rollback that rate of increase.” Within five years, the plan is to have the annual tuition bump down to three percent, she said.

Next year’s budget also includes changes to staff compensation. The Board created a two percent salary pool for non-faculty and non-unionized employees. “Salary pool means what’s available overall,” Nugent said. “It doesn’t mean that every person will get exactly two percent. In effect, though, it’s likely that most people will see … approximately two percent.” 

This is the third consecutive year the exempt and nonexempt staff salary pool has risen by two percent, an increase that was met with ill will last spring; not only was staff salary growth outpaced by the annual increase of the Consumer Price Index, it also paled incomparison to the seven-to-10 percent faculty-pay boost.

“Students don’t choose Kenyon for the president, or the registrar, or even business services,” Nugent said at the time. “They come here for the faculty.” In a Collegian article published last April, a nonexempt employee rebutted: “I was a little shocked that they think we should be happy with a two-percent raise when others on campus are getting way more than that.”

Next year’s budget will include action on a compensation study making an additional $400,000 available for salaries. As a result, 30 percent of exempt employees — those on non-hourly wage — are likely to see some adjustment. For non-exempt employees, “That entire pay scale has been moved up,” Nugent said. “When we did the market comparison, we found that we weren’t really as competitive as we wanted to be. So that whole pay scale is shifting upwards, and about 55 percent of those non-exempt employees will likely see adjustments. Some of them are major.”

With the budget squared away, the retreat turned didactic. Administrators brought in three speakers. “The first segment was about the challenges facing liberal arts colleges in general,” Nugent said. “There are sort of varied degrees of familiarity with higher-ed among the trustees, and of course we have some new trustees, two, for whom this was their first meeting. … I think that a number of people learned things about small, private colleges that they hadn’t known. For example, the average family income is higher at public universities than it is at private colleges. The average debt burden is about $23,000 and a lot of that runs counter to what you hear in the media. So I think a lot of people were interested to sort of be apprised to the facts on that.”

The next speaker, who recently published a study on academic finance, walked the trustees through the challenges facing Kenyon, a college with a low student-faculty ratio but limited resources.

The third and final portion of the retreat looked at Kenyon’s development in technological services and resources. “I think it was an interesting conversation for them to have, because I think it’s something that they will have to think about in the future,” said Nugent. 

Over the weekend, the administration gave the trustees an internal report on blended learning — technology-based pedagogy. 

A dozen faculty members contributed to the report, whose main drafter was Assistant Professor of Chemistry Simon Garcia.

On the subject of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are gaining ground in the academic sphere, it remains to be seen if Kenyon will join the bandwagon. Nugent warned that MOOCs have the power to bring teaching to an expansive audience, but they are also costly. As head of academic technology at Princeton University, Nugent helped put together a web-class on John Forbes Nash, Jr., the Nobel Prize-winning economist and subject of the film A Beautiful Mind. “It cost us between $500,000 and $1,000,000 to produce it,” she said. “And that’s what they cost.”

But here at Kenyon there is still no consensus as to “what kind of significance this is going to have,” Nugent said. In the meantime, this past weekend’s retreat may prove integral to the Trustees’ spring visit — a date swiftly approaching — and key to the College’s growth.

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