Senate reviews budget allocation

Photo by Qin Li ’21  Shannon Gurek speaks at Senate on Jan. 29

Photo by Qin Li ’21

Shannon Gurek speaks at Senate on Jan. 29

BY MELISSA JOHNSON ’20

To kick off the first senate meeting of the semester on Tuesday, Jan. 29, SGA held a town hall meeting with Vice President of Finance and Administration and Treasurer Shannon Gurek and President Sonya Stephens. The meeting’s focus was on the distribution of Mount Holyoke’s budget on a yearly basis.

Gurek opened the meeting with a presentation explaining the College’s overall financial details, explaining that the College’s spending generally falls under three major categories: investments, buildings and people (faculty and staff). “All three of these assets help support the mission of the College,” Gurek said.

Within the category of investments, Gurek spoke about Mount Holyoke’s endowment, explaining that it is essentially a pool of money invested by the College to produce income for its operating budget. She added that the endowment funds are used primarily for student financial aid and to support the work of faculty in the classroom.

Gurek then spoke about the next major spending category: buildings. With 64 buildings across 1.7 million square feet, costs associated with maintaining them involve utilities, daily maintenance, investment in existing systems and more.

“Currently we’re investing $5 million dollars per year into our buildings,” said Gurek. “However, recent studies indicate that we should be spending $10-12 million a year, therefore, this is a cost that is continually growing.”

Gurek continued, speaking about the direct costs of supporting the College’s faculty and staff. With the salaries and benefits the College provides to faculty and staff, Gurek said that Mount Holyoke spends around $91 million on its employees a year.

“With over 200 faculty members and 700 staff members, 67 percent of the operating budget covers annual compensation expenses,” Gurek said.

She concluded her presentation by explaining how budget decisions are made at the administrative level. Gurek also walked senators through three basic questions administrators ask themselves when such decisions are made: ‘How much new revenue will we have?’ ‘What are the costs from last year that will continue?’ ‘How will net new revenue be allocated?’

The meeting was then opened for student questions.

One senator asked how students influence the way the College’s endowment is used. Gurek explained that in the past, some student-formed groups were involved in endowment spending, but that recently, students have not shown much interest in the subject. Stephens did add that most of the endowment spending the College does is restricted.

“We’re certainly willing to hear and discuss new ideas,” said Gurek.

Another concern brought to Gurek and Stephens was about financial aid: despite Mount Holyoke’s stated promise to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, students feel the statement isn’t always realized.

“I think where the disconnect actually comes from [with this situation] is that sometimes the expected family contribution (EFC) doesn’t always match what families really feel they can pay,” said Gurek. “This is something we’re talking about, and we’re looking to see if we can change some of the formulas that go into figuring out that EFC.”

“There is a significant difference between meeting 100 percent full need and gapping. We do not gap,” said Stephens. According to Stephens, “gapping” occurs when a college’s financial aid award for a student doesn’t meet the student’s financial need as defined by the college.

The last question of the night was addressed to President Stephens and did not have to do with the subject of finance. Instead, a student asked Stephens why Mount Holyoke doesn’t advertise itself as a historically women’s college. Stephens addressed the question, explaining that charter technicalities prohibit a change in the school’s designation.

“As an administration, every single person has embraced this notion that we’re a women’s college that is genderdiverse,” Stephens assured students. “We want everyone to feel that they’re included, no matter the charter of the College.”

Senate concluded by thanking Gurek and Stephens for their time and announcing the next meeting for next Tuesday, Feb. 5, starting at 7:30 p.m