Since Feb. 1st, the administration has been holding meetings about the financial component of the college’s operations. On Jan. 18th, Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown sent an email to all faculty, students, and staff announcing a series of information sessions entitled “Budget Essentials” that would be presented by representatives from the college’s financial and investment offices. The purpose of the presentations was to provide for greater campus awareness about how the finances of the college operate. Enrollment for the meetings was limited and meant to represent the stakeholders in the college — professors, students, staff members and administrators all attended. Presenters have included Brown, Vice President for Development and Alumni Donations Karl Clauss, and Chief Investment Officer Mark C. Amstutz.
The presentations have focused on different aspects of the college’s finances: the first, held on Feb. 1st, gave an overview of how the college makes its annual budget, while the second, held on Feb. 8th, detailed how Swarthmore’s $1.8 billion endowment is managed.
The third meeting, postponed by a week due to inclement weather last Monday, will give information about how financial aid is funded.
According to Brown, The “Budget Essentials” presentations came about because of a perceived interest in the fine details of how the college’s finances operation.
“During my brief time here, I’ve noticed considerable interest among faculty, staff, and students regarding how our finances work and how budgetary decisions are made on campus,” Brown said.
Brown explained that previous presentations about the finances of the college have occurred — including at the coffee talk with the Dean and ad hoc faculty and Manager committees — but were smaller and less comprehensive.
“I’ve had the opportunity to provide a broad overview of the ollege’s financial picture to students, staff, and faculty in other settings, and I’ve found that there’s a strong desire within our community to learn more about these subjects,” said Brown. “The Budget Essentials program evolved from these earlier outreach efforts.”
Details about the college’s finances were disseminated during the meeting. For example, Chief Investment Officer Mark Amstutz revealed that an early investment of $200,000 in Facebook eventually earned the college $30 million. At another point, Brown showed that in the last ten years Swarthmore has spent significantly less in absolute terms on new buildings than its peer institutions — Swarthmore spent half of what Amherst spent and only a quarter of what Williams spent on buildings.
Students have welcomed the presentations but maintain concerns about financial decisions the college has made.
Jeremy Seitz-Brown, ’18, who attended the meetings, said he found them helpful and hoped they would provide a forum for community members to voice their opinions about the budget.
“I think this Budget Essentials program is much needed and am glad that the finance and investments office is offering it. I think the structure of the class has been pretty good, and I hope that the class attendees are given clear avenues to make their voices heard on budget matters at the conclusion of the class,” Seitz-Brown said.
Seitz-Brown also noted, however, that the presentation about how the college used its endowment made him concerned about the college’s priorities.
“One concern is intergenerational equity; it seems like the college hadn’t been spending enough from the endowment compared to peer institutions. It sounds like endowment spending will move closer in line with peer institutions, though, as the number of incoming students on financial aid increases and as the college invests more in building projects on campus,” said Seitz-Brown. “We may offer students a great education, but how could we invest in and do more business with local communities? How could we align the endowment’s investments with our values?”
Brown hopes the program continues and expands in future years.
“Depending on the level of on-going interest, we plan to offer the Budget Essentials program once or twice per year, so that the community can become more engaged and more informed about our budget and related processes,” he said.
Attendees of the event have expressed significant interest in the final presentation regarding how financial aid is budgeted, scheduled to be held this coming Monday at 4 p.m. in Bond Hall.