Budget Cuts

Photo by Michael Fuller.

Photo by Michael Fuller.

Students returning to Lookout Mountain for a new year at Covenant College may notice a few changes around campus—most obviously the scaffolding surrounding Carter Tower and the formerly quiet campus interrupted by the sounds of renovation. A more subtle change is the slightly smaller student body. Lower enrollment numbers, including a smaller freshman class, means that Covenant has around fifty fewer students than last year. Rumors about declining enrollment, budget cuts, and loss of staff positions have caused students to wonder what other changes are in store for the Covenant community in the 2015-2016 school year.

Dan Wykoff, vice president of finance and operations and CFO at Covenant, is able to explain the circumstances. First of all, the changes are positive signs that the college is continuing to honor God by stewarding well the resources He has given and caring for the students enrolled at the college. “We do not believe the students will be negatively affected by these adjustments,” Wykoff said. “On the contrary, we believe these adjustments will prove to be positive this year and very helpful in the long run.”

A dip in enrollment is not insignificant. 87% of Covenant’s revenue comes from students paying tuition, room and board, so a decrease in enrollment—like this year’s difference of around fifty students—means a difference of between 1 and 1.5 million dollars from last year. To address that difference, the vice presidents of the college chose to preserve financial stability by making budget cuts. Wykoff explained that the two “buckets” of expenses at Covenant are labor—wages and benefits for the college’s approximately 250 employees—and non-labor— including food utilities, travel, facilities, maintenance, and more. Labor takes up 60% of the budget, leaving 40% for non-labor expenses. In order to compensate for the difference in student enrollment, the college adjusted budgets in both expense buckets in order to make better use of resources. That reallocation included eliminating eight staff positions, five of which were unfilled.

While the budget cuts have required small changes, there have also been numerous positive changes for the Covenant campus and community. In addition to addingthe faculty Professor Chris Robinson in the sociology department, the college has also been able to add a Director of Alumni Relations, a Director of Church Relations, two new Admissions Counselors, a full-time golf coach, and continues an active search for another economics professor. In terms of physical changes, while the Carter renovations are an obvious ongoing project, the college has also worked to improve student parking and the Priesthill Center facilities. Most exciting for art students is the soon-to-be-completed new art facility that will replace campus’ beloved “art barn” next to Jackson Hall. Additionally, next fall will be the inaugural season of Covenant Men’s and Women’s teams in Track and Field.

The concerned student should note that though hearing news of budget cuts and decreased enrollment may be alarming, these are normal fluctuations that occur from year to year. Dan Wykoff pointed out  that “every college has a daily task of balancing economic realities with strategic priorities.” The college’s decisions to make budget adjustments are always done carefully with the good of the whole college in mind—and they will continue doing, what Wykoff says “the college has been doing for sixty years and will do for the next many years: doing our best to excellently steward the finite resources God gives us in order to excellently serve the students He brings into our community.”