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2012 Spring Issue 1 (April 6, 2012)

In Strategic Planning process, working group aims to shore up Carleton’s future financial health

April 6, 2012
By Ben Hubbert

Carleton College’s Strategic Planning Foundation meets every ten years to discuss plans for the school’s future.  Starting this fall term, thirteen Strategic Planning Working groups began examining different aspects of the college’s current policies and drafting proposals to improve those policies over the next ten years.  While some working groups were focused on upholding the college’s values, others were focused on the more practical needs of maintaining the school’s finances and physical plant. 

This week, The Carletonian interviewed Dr. George Shuffleton, English professor and convener of the Sustainable Economy working group, about his group’s work in ensuring that the college’s endowment continues to serve its needs.

At the beginning of the strategic planning process, Shuffleton’s group was given several questions to consider. Most of them revolved around the college’s endowment: how fast would it grow in the future, and how much would the college be able to spend?  These questions appear simple, but in reality they involve both complex economic predictions and a host of subtleties. 

The College works continuously, independent of the strategic planning process, to create new models predicting the growth of its endowment into the future. 

“The trustees approved new rules for the endowment draw in October, and it looks like they have it about right,” Shuffleton told The Carletonian.  The models used by Carleton College factor in money from a wide variety of sources – gifts, tuition, and the regular growth of the endowment through interest and investments. 

But the recent economic slump can negatively impact all three of these sources.  “Household incomes have not grown with inflation in the last decade,” Shuffleton pointed out.  This may negatively effect both the amount of tuition Carleton can collect and the amount donors are willing to give.

“We need to be prepared for really slow growth if necessary”, Shuffleton told the Carletonian, “and some of those discussions [about how to prepare] we have yet to have.”

Simply maintaining the College eats up a large fraction of Carleton’s endowment, Shuffleton explained.  Compensation for faculty and staff makes up the largest part of these expenses, but another portion goes to maintain Carleton’s buildings.  In discussions with the Physical Plant working group and with Steve Spehn, Director of Facilities and Capital Planning at Carleton, the Sustainable Economy working group has come to the conclusion that “we are not spending enough money on maintaining our buildings”. 
At this point, Shuffleton says, his group is more concerned with practical considerations than with furthering the values of the school. 

“This is not about our values,” he told the Carletonian, “it’s about, ‘does our math make sense’?”  Unlike some other working groups, the Sustainable Economy group has consulted primarily with faculty, trustees, and staff rather than bringing their issue to the student body via town hall meetings. 

“We need to talk to the people who know the most,” Shuffleton explained.  He remarked, however, that his group would soon need to factor Carleton’s core values into their analysis.  “If you have limited resources, what are your values?  How should we spend our money?”  To answer these questions, the Sustainable Economy group has begun to reach out to other planning groups, and Shuffleton has considered holding a town hall meeting to discuss the issue with the student body.  For now, however, he believes that the diverse make-up of the working group itself allows for a sufficiently broad range of perspectives. 

“The way these working groups are set up ensures we have collective input” from staff, students, faculty, and trustees, he says. 
Shuffleton is not yet sure what will happen after the groups submit their proposals this May.  “A lot of the decisions rest with the trustees,” he told The Carletonian, and in the end the implementation of the working groups’ proposals remains in their hands.  “We’re not sure how the endpoint of the process will work.”

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