News & Publications
Letter Home, Fall 2008
A Letter from the President
Christopher B. Nelson, president of the Annapolis campus, discusses how the college is faring in this difficult economy.
Annapolis President Christopher B. Nelson
I enjoyed meeting and speaking with those of you who joined us recently for Parents' Weekend. It was not surprising that in addition to questions about our academic program, many of you have questions and concerns about how this financial downturn is affecting St. John's College.
As the news continues to be discouraging and promises to remain so for some time, it seemed appropriate to address directly the financial state of the college and to tell you how we are looking to the future. This is indeed a time of uncertainty; families are struggling with basic questions about how they will direct their spending of fewer resources; the State of Maryland has cut its support of independent colleges; donors are refining their thinking on whom they should support with how much; and our endowment, which supports over 10% of our operations, is shrinking.
The impact of all this on the current academic year is not likely to be great. We will use caution in filling staff positions that open up, and we will be looking throughout the operation at ways to cut expenditures. We do not expect to see any disruption in the quality of the students' experience of the Program.
Looking forward, the outlook is not quite so good. We are certain to experience much heavier pressure on our operating budget next year and perhaps for a time thereafter. We remain committed to a need-based financial aid policy that makes it possible for students who belong at the college to attend, without regard to their financial wherewithal. Therefore, we anticipate an increase in our expenditures for financial aid, even as we are certain to experience cuts in revenues from some important sources. We are not likely to have a very good picture of our financial needs for the next academic year before the end of January, perhaps not much before mid-March. We will keep you apprised as we know more.
Having said all this, I can nonetheless report that the college is more strongly positioned to weather this downturn without a significant impact on our academic program than we were in the past several downturns. Our priorities are clear; we have a single program of instruction; we are committed to small classes and to our need-based financial aid program. We know where we need to direct our attention and to place our resources. Our endowment, through September 30th, has substantially outperformed the markets, small comfort as this is when everyone is losing ground. We have just completed a remarkably successful capital campaign with the support of alumni, parents, and friends, and this has provided a cushion against market losses.
St. John's has a lean operation, supporting the college's singular purpose. We have also had the luxury of building some reserves against harsh times. We expect to balance this year's budget (as we have every year for nearly two decades) by controlling our costs and redoubling our efforts to raise additional funds.
The college has been fortunate to have developed a strong donor base. We were even able to announce two weeks ago a new grant that has significantly brightened our fall: The National Endowment for the Humanities has made a $1 million challenge grant to the college under its "We the People" initiative. Even in the midst of this financial storm, I am hoping to announce before the Winter Break that we have raised the full $3 million to meet the challenge. These funds will help support library acquisitions, preceptorials, special programs, and faculty study in areas of the curriculum related to American history, literature, and the foundations of democracy.
I am confident that we will weather this storm in health, but it will require sacrifices along the way - sacrifices that I do not expect to do harm to our primary purpose of protecting the student experience at the college.
I invite any of you who have questions or concerns to contact me. As we look for better news—but nonetheless plan for worse—you can count on continuing updates about how St. John's is faring in these times.