President’s Budget Message, April 2019

The University recently released the third-quarter forecast, which projects the College finishing with a slightly positive balance. I wanted to share this news with you and update you on the steps being taken to improve our financial position. First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your hard work and dedication to CSI. I am grateful to be part of a campus where faculty and staff understand the unique Mission of this institution and believe in the value we provide to our students and our community.

I know it has been a difficult year regarding some of the uncertainty presented while we worked with CUNY to close a midyear projected deficit, and appreciate your patience as we worked to avoid imposition of sweeping measures. We are projecting to close our deficit, by restricting hires to critical areas, implementing aggressive collection measures, increasing summer enrollment, and receiving support from non-tax levy resources. Regarding current-year spending in OTPS, AVP Carlos Serrano will be meeting with the Provost and Deans to process payments for travel reimbursements and Library database subscriptions. This year, we will be supporting $70,000 in travel, which is approximately $28,000 or 65% more than the PSC-CUNY contractual minimum. While we will be able to make these payments, it is important that we start to address some longstanding issues that I outline further below. The third-quarter forecast makes it clear that many of the senior colleges have endured a similar year, which reaffirms what I have previously stated, that we need to rely on ourselves to shape our destiny and make this a destination campus.

In that spirit, about two months ago, we convened a team made up of offices from Academic Affairs, Enrollment Services, and Finance, with the Provost overseeing the coordination of efforts to attain optimal results for improved enrollment for Summer and Fall 2019 and improved collections. This cross-divisional team of roughly 20 people has been meeting on a weekly basis to develop and implement strategies in order to help improve our fiscal and enrollment outlook for both the immediate future and long-term. As a result, they have undertaken efforts to speed the processing of freshmen and transfer applications, including lending support to CUNY Central for the processing of applications. They have also implemented a comprehensive conversion plan to turn admitted freshmen and transfer students into enrollees by focusing on student engagement. There are more opportunities for students and their families to visit the campus and ongoing calling campaigns including student-to-student, advisor-to-student, and faculty-to-student. These calls are designed to answer questions, reiterate the College’s value proposition, and make the students feel welcome as a part of the Dolphin family.  Recently, a small group, led by Michael Parrish, met with officials from CUNY Central to report that we are taking all possible actions to ameliorate the effects caused by some of the glitches in the new admissions module. They were pleased with our efforts and felt we were on the right track.

In addition to the above actions, the group focused its efforts on a summer enrollment plan, which includes targeting two populations: new external students (visiting) and current CSI students. Thousands of emails and postcards were sent to students announcing summer classes at CSI.  The targeted groups included students who previously applied to CSI but did not attend; students who applied to any CUNY school, live on Staten Island, but did not attend CUNY; and students who expressed an interest in summer classes via the Central CUNY Website. 

Current students are being encouraged to enroll in summer courses with correspondence from CAAS detailing the benefits of taking classes in summer sessions.  Additionally, affinity groups have been asked to encourage their students to take summer classes.  We have also developed a dynamic campaign to advertise summer courses utilizing digital resources, campus-wide poster displays, and emails. Finally, Financial Aid (FA) has been sending personalized communication to students that detail their specific eligibility for summer Pell and encourages them to consider taking summer courses.

The team model previously mentioned was also leveraged to improve our collections. Specifically, the Bursar is working with those in other units to help collect outstanding balances from our students. This approach has already shown that students are often more responsive to individuals with whom they have established relationships such as those in Athletics, SEEK, Verrazano, etc. While this team model for collections is relatively new, we started making changes in our collections process early in the academic year. During the Fall semester, we engaged an advisor and consulted with CUNY to review most effective methods. As a result of our internal reviews, we made a number of changes to our collections process. After significant outreach to students with balances, we started aggressively de-registering students who had sizeable outstanding balances. The Bursar also developed reports so we could do a better analysis of our collections’ shortfalls. This analysis provided the basis for creating teams to assist with collections.  We have also reduced the waiting period for sending delinquent accounts to a collection agency and have been using the agency that has proven to obtain the best results. In addition to the improvements in the Bursar’s Office, Financial Aid (FA) helped the College reduce its outstanding balances by maximizing federal and state funding and Direct Loans. They successfully petitioned CUNY Central for additional Federal Supplemental Educational Grant (SEOG) funds, receiving almost $200k more than last spring. SEOG funds are used to pay student balances so this has a direct impact on helping the College reach its collection target and enabling students to continue their education. Moreover, FA recently secured an additional $50,000, and is negotiating with CUNY to get even more. Besides maximizing grant opportunities, FA packaged students who are eligible for unsubsidized and subsidized Direct Loans in an effort to eliminate any outstanding balances. Notably, FA packaged 384 students for Spring 2019 and 563 students for Fall 2018, totaling 947 students. This represents a nearly 20% increase over the 810 students who were packaged last academic year. These collection measures are quickly bearing fruit. Prior-Year collections from collection agency actions are up $361K over last year at $2.8M. For Spring 2019, thanks to the ongoing contributions of these teams, we have experienced reductions in student balances. Specifically, we have reduced targeted student group balances by 19% or $834k from $4.376M on March 20 to $3.542M on April 2.

Because we have had some success, I do not want to give the impression that we can take the hand off the throttle. Changing the direction of the College is like sailing a battleship–we change course, but we don’t turn on a dime. The good news is that we started many of the necessary changes prior to this year. Our efforts to make this a destination campus and improve our enrollment will rely in part on improving our infrastructure. We had great success in improving our capital budget, doubling it this past year, and have put the money to good use–improving our roads, adding gutters to buildings, reconstructing the entry plazas to four of our academic buildings, refurbishing the pool, and adding nine new state-of-the-art classrooms, a computer lab, and adjunct faculty space to Building 2M. We are at various stages of work in additional projects such as replacing our existing sidewalks and electrical substation repairs.

Besides these infrastructure improvements, we have been very successful in generating support for the school and academic programs from external sources, like our elected officials and local companies.

In the past several years, we have secured more than $5.2M just for academic projects through the work of our government relations arm including:

  • $1.35M from the City Council for the development of a new high-tech engineering MakerSpace to support our students.
  • $45k for engineering equipment.
  • $1M plus from the City Council’s Technology Committee to support our CSI Tech Incubator.
  • $200k from Senator Lanza for the recently completed upgrade of our Nursing Simulator Lab.
  • $1.73M for the Media Culture Screening Room and TV Studio.
  • $41k for eye tracking equipment in Psychology.
  • $500k for renovation of the 6S Greenhouse, which is finally getting off the ground.
  • $125k from Con Ed for the naming of the Trading Room and which received an additional 175k of government support.
  • $250k from Richmond County Savings Foundation for the naming of the atrium of Building 2M.
  • $108k from National Grid for scholarship support.

In addition to this support, at the March College Council meeting, the Foundation President, Pat McDermott, noted how the CSI Foundation over the last eight-plus years turned a deficit of $360k in unrestricted funds into a modest 290k surplus and increased the total equity funds by nearly $5 million. This year, the Foundation was able to provide 175k in unrestricted funds to assist various Departments and the College as a whole. Over the last four years, they have provided $772k in college support and nearly 1.5M in scholarships.

Finally, concerning enrollment, I believe two moves will have a significant impact on the College. The addition of our new Assistant Vice President of Enrollment, Alexander Scott, will help in the development of a long-range, strategic enrollment plan. Next, if we are successful in our application, our move to Division II and the East Coast Conference will increase the College’s exposure as we compete in locations along the eastern seaboard. Enrollment across CUNY is soft so we need to grow our exposure outside of the metro area, and this is one way to do it.

The above activities–from infrastructure improvements to increased funding to student success and outreach efforts–will help us with our enrollment, and the best way to improve our budget is through increased enrollment. However, it is likely that Fall 2019 will look similar to Fall 2018. Therefore, we have to review our expenses. Willie Sutton, a notorious bank robber, when asked why he robbed banks, reportedly replied, “because that’s where the money is.”  Our resources are primarily dedicated to personnel costs so, until enrollment improves, we must look at our staffing numbers. Overall, total FT staffing for the College has increased from 2016 to 2018, from 913 to 953. During that period, staff per 1,000 FTE has increased from 82.2 to 85.6, which places the College fifth lowest among the 11 senior colleges, behind NYCCT (69), Queens (79.7), John Jay (80.8), and Baruch (85.5). City College has the highest ratio at 114.2 per 1,000 FTE. Generally, the College is in the middle of the pack among the 11 senior colleges, (excluding the specialty schools) when looking at staffing per 1,000 FTE. However, we are lightly staffed in comparison to other schools in Academic Support (third lowest at 2.5 per 1,000 FTE), General Institutions Staff (third lowest at 8.5 per 1,000 FTE), and General Administration (second lowest at 5.5 per 1,000 FTE). When it comes to Maintenance and Operations, CUNY compares headcount to Gross Square Footage (GSF) of the campus buildings. According to CUNY, we have 1.368 M of GSF, and one worker per 12,435 GSF. Using this formula, we have the third highest staffing number behind Medgar (7,789) and Baruch (11,558). NYCCT has the lowest at (22,432).  Unfortunately, this formula ignores CSI’s 204 acres, which equates to 8,886,240 exterior gross square feet. CSI has the responsibility of maintaining 26 separate buildings spread across the campus. The total of 26 buildings is the second largest total among the senior colleges. The 204 acres accounts for 44% of the total acreage of all senior colleges (463 acres). Based on this information, we are not adequately staffed and need additional funding to protect against deferred maintenance. I have presented this argument to Central and hope to have some success in changing the formula.

Regardless of any success on this front, it is important that we review future hires strategically in relation to enrollment and our overall resources. One factor guiding our hiring decisions will be cost of instruction. I have charged  the Provost, along with the IPC and the College Council Budget Committee, with undertaking this review so we can make better decisions pertaining to the hiring of full-time staff and adjuncts. This is necessary and one of the best ways to take hold of our future. In furtherance of the discussions we need to have, please review the chart that shows our headcount over the last ten years.

I believe the College’s future is bright and that by working together to analyze and address the challenges we face, we will be a stronger institution and continue our ascent. I want to stress again how important it is that we work together and I encourage you to feel free to provide suggestions on how we can increase revenue, improve efficiencies, and reduce expenditures. Please feel free to email any suggestions regarding enrollment and the budget to me at president@csi.cuny.edu. Thank you again for your time, your efforts to make this a destination campus, and your support.