In order for Ithaca College to raise money, fund IC 20/20 while still keeping tuition low, the college adopted “Strategic sourcing” and “zero based budgeting”. These cost-cutting practices were perceived as corporate euphemisms for downsizing faculty and staff.
Strategic Sourcing describes the reallocation of funds to areas of the budget which support IC 20/20’s reinvigorated “student experience”. Zero Based Budgeting describes a process wherein each area of the budget, including academic departments, must defend the allocations it receives from the budget.
These practices embodied the budgeting philosophy which Carl Sgrecci, former vice president of business and finance, said the college as a whole was to adopt. It was explained in the formula “ value = quality/cost ” which first appeared in the 2013-14 budget narrative.
This equation expresses that the cheaper the expense, the more likely it is to be valued and implemented by the college’s budgeting team. The more expensive something is, conversely, the higher the quality must be in order for the college to consider it valuable. And the most valuable asset, the college found, was a competitively cost of attendance.
Whether professors liked it or not, annual meetings with the Institutional Budgeting and Effectiveness Committee (IEBC) would be devoted to evaluating whether their departments’ programs and tenure-tracks were “needs” or “wants” and if they’re some of their funding could be resourced to support tuition discounts or IC 20/20.
In response to a dissatisfied faculty who feel devalued by this new model, Biehn said the administration hasn’t done enough to be candid about the college’s new practices.
“I think what we haven’t done is help everybody understand that …college’s like Ithaca College have to be focused on cost and value,” Biehn said. “We have to reduce the increase level that grows each year in cost and at the same time we have to continue to provide greater and greater value to our students and to ensure student success and to enhance student experience.”
Here begins the split between faculty and administration: administrators begin to invest in profitable features in attempt to make way from the college’s future in a world whose values resist the terms of quantification. Professors in the humanities are forced to confront an existentially threatening question: how can the administration quantify the “value” of liberal arts learning? And if you can, is it as “valuable” as technical and professional training?
By the 2014-15 academic year, the college’s financial ambitions—strategic sourcing, zero-based budgeting, IC 20/20 and value = quality/cost—became central to the college’s operations.
“Initiatives [of IC 20/20] that have already been funded are now a part of respective departments across the campus; therefore, managing the overall effort will become much easier as they are analyzed with other strategic priorities,” the budget for the 2014-15 academic year reported.
“We are lowering our rate of increase in tuition and increasing the discount rate, which both affect the net tuition negatively,” wrote Former Vice President of Business and Finance Gerald Hector in the budget narrative for the 2014-15 academic year. “The consequence of these actions puts a new emphasis on reducing operating expenses since there will be less net tuition revenue to pay for them.”
During the 2013-14 academic year, the college’s budgeting team successfully reclaimed 1 million in positions deemed “vacant or redundant” by the college’s budgeting team that year, wrote former Vice President of Business and Finance Gerald Hector, and planned to reallocate another 2 million the next year.
For many faculty and staff, these practices have created a “culture of fear” according to an open letter campaign during the Fall 2016 semester published in The Ithacan, the college’s foremost student-led news source.
Some departments can offer a higher likeliness of attaining a job after graduating, like business administration. Others, like Anthropology, struggle to receive support from the college and gain a second-class academic status.
Throughout the country, much of the funding that would have gone toward opening tenure tracks for new faculty have been redirected to projects intended to make the college more attractive to tuition-paying students, according to Cornell Economist Ronald Ehrenberg’s study “American Higher Education in Transition.”
Ehrenberg commented on this trend, saying although professors may be critical of this new model, investment in student-centered initiatives positively affects a college’s rates of retention and graduation.
A great deal of funds were also reallocated to fundraising initiatives by the Office of Institutional Advancement. During the 2012-13 and 2014-15 academic years, the college invested over 17 million dollars in institutional advancement which returned 15.4 million on top of the initial investment.
But this was money the faculty never saw. The sole purposes of these fundraising initiatives, Biehn said, was to support IC 20/20.
As for academic departments, the strongest claim for funding is student enrollment, since throughout this time, the college remained between 90 to 95 percent dependent upon income from students.
Some departments can offer a higher likeliness of attaining a job after graduating, like Business Administration and Integrative Marketing and Communications, and therefore garner consistent student enrollment and funds from the college. Other departments, with low rates of students attaining jobs, like Art History and Anthropology, struggle to receive support from the college and gain a second-class academic status.
Click here to read Part IV: A Lost Liberal Arts Dream