In this challenging time of economic uncertainty I am reminded of the history of the Colleges, one marked by successive accomplishment and tenacity, often in the face of great adversity. Over the arc of our history, through world wars and perilous economic difficulties, the Colleges have stayed true to its mission of providing a world class liberal arts education. We are fortunate that the dedicated members of the Board of Trustees have demonstrated careful and prudent stewardship, an approach that has served us well.
In many ways, the Colleges today are in an enhanced position with several years of balanced budgets, a strong balance sheet and a recent Standard and Poor’s “A” rating reaffirming our economic position. Our enrollment numbers for next fall’s incoming classes are encouraging and we are heartened that we continue to attract students who impress faculty with their intellectual curiosity, civic engagement and global understanding.
Nevertheless the economic downturn has directly affected our endowment and philanthropy to the Colleges. And, I believe, the recession will pose greater burdens for families to finance an HWS education. With this reality, throughout the fall I have taken significant steps and we have adopted sensible policies to slow expenditures and scrutinize budgets including restrictions in travel, hiring and administrative efficiencies. Measures undertaken to control spending include steps that will affect both this year’s budget and beyond. All of this will be essential as we navigate the stormy economic seas ahead.
Access to a Hobart and William Smith education continues to be a top priority and we are grateful to the many alumni, alumnae, parents and friends of the Colleges who provide critical support for financial aid either through support of the Fund for Hobart and William Smith or through the creation of endowed scholarships. We have reached out to those students whose ability to afford an HWS education has been adversely affected by the economy and have acted aggressively to redistribute resources to retain these students. We continue to work in partnership with families as they manage college costs.
We are appreciative of the many supporters of Campaign for the Colleges which has realized more than $146 million in gifts and pledges toward our goal of $160 million.
We will continue to actively fundraise for the remaining priorities of Campaign for the Colleges – namely the athletics project and the performing arts initiative. However, given the uncertainties that exist regarding the extent of this economic downturn, it seems prudent to pause and ensure that funding commitments are more extensive before construction begins. Fortunately, we have been able to significantly enhance our campus facilities in recent years thanks to the generosity of our alums and parents.
The Colleges’ positive and ambitious response to these economic times has led to a swelling sense of community and common purpose here on campus. We continue to be dedicated to educating young men and women to lead lives of consequence. We reaffirm our belief that knowledge results in positive change. We remain bound to the idea that the value of education is in its ability to spark hope.
I am confident that Hobart and William Smith will endure these challenging times with the tenacity exhibited by past generations. In the nine years that I have been privileged to serve these Colleges, there has been no greater opportunity for the actions of our alumni, alumnae, parents and friends to positively impact our future. An investment in higher education has never been more needed or more critical to the future of our nation, and we are grateful for your support.
Mark D. Gearan