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Teachers College and the Economy: A Special Message from President Fuhrman

Dear Members of the Teachers College Community:

I want to share with you my thoughts about Teachers College and its future given the significant economic upheaval facing our country. Like all academic institutions, TC has been affected by the economy, and we are taking appropriate steps to respond. Through careful planning, we intend to move our agenda forward and advance our mission in the months and years ahead. In times of economic adversity, the world has perhaps an even greater need for gifted teachers, committed scholars and researchers, and experienced practitioners, especially those prepared at Teachers College. That means that, within the context of keeping our budget balanced, we must not compromise the initiatives begun in the wake of the extremely productive review of our academic programs that we launched in 2008—an effort that has included both self-studies by our own faculty and analysis by scholars from other institutions.
 
Our research will continue to probe important issues, such as those involving inclusive education, health promotion for adolescents, and newer areas such as the implication of cognitive research for instruction. Our faculty will continue to produce scholarship that finds its way not only into our classes and seminars but also into public schools, clinics, organizations, homes and communities, where it benefits people everywhere in their daily lives. As a result of academic planning, we expect that our work will be even more relevant and influential.
 
How will we fund this work—and how is the economic downturn affecting us?
 
Three main sources provide revenue for the budget: tuition and fees (55 percent), private gifts and public grants for research (27 percent), and endowment income (6 percent). In the current climate, as you might expect, each of these revenue sources is under pressure, but our strategy in each area is to craft short-term solutions that also lay the groundwork for longer-term stability and growth.
 
Fortunately, endowment losses are mitigated by our Board’s policy of using a 16-quarter rolling average as the base for drawing income. In other words, rather than reacting to a single good quarter, we spend based on the context of the previous four years. That said, the market value of the endowment is down 21 percent for the period of September 1, 2008, through December 31, 2008, a trend that has continued in the early part of 2009. That decrease—which is within the range of our peer institutions—reduces general support to our operating budget and, most alarmingly, significantly reduces the amount for financial aid for the next academic year.
 
The impact on financial aid income directly affects our students who are also experiencing the current economic turmoil, and it is imperative that they not bear an undue burden. Therefore next year we will, in fact, be increasing financial aid by $1 million from the operating budget. We will also try to insulate our students by minimizing the tuition increase for next year. By helping our students, we are also doing what we can to protect our budget’s largest source of funds: tuition and fees. On the positive side, TC’s enrollment in Fall 2008 represented a 15-year high, and, as of now, we see no signs of weakness in enrollment for the coming fall. Beginning next year and over the next several years, we hope to boost revenues through selective enrollment growth and increasing non-credit revenue. We’ll increase the attractiveness of our educational offerings and expand our efforts to reach new audiences. We are committed to these important steps both in the near term and to meet our longer-term growth strategies.
 
Private gifts and public grants are the third source of revenue for the College. Private gifts are absolutely essential for boosting financial aid. Reflecting that urgency, we will be redoubling our efforts to reach out to alumni and friends in this critically important area. To be absolutely clear: we need your support, now more than ever.
 
Our academic planning processes will create new synergies that will attract public and private grant funding for research and for activities that make a difference in practice and policy. For example, as the federal government fashions an unprecedented effort to stimulate economic recovery, the College is responding with research proposals to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other major funding agencies. 
 
At the same time, I want to assure you that we are conducting the fiscal management of the College with the prudence and vigilance that the current national and global economic situation requires. More specifically, we are working diligently to minimize our costs without jeopardizing any core functions at the College. After consulting with administrators and faculty, we have instituted a selective hiring freeze for professional staff and are discussing compensation strategies that will hold down costs. At this time there are no plans for either layoffs or salary reductions. We have, however, frozen the salaries for the senior administration, and we also are looking for increased efficiencies—for example, by centralizing procurement functions and consolidating a number of small programs. In addition, we are also implementing expenditure reductions throughout the College.
 
We will continue to hone our multi-year financial plan to allow us to assess the severity of our financial problems and the adequacy of our response over a five-year period rather than in the relatively short context of a twelve-month fiscal year. The overarching goal is to continue to balance our budget in the short term and to find ways to accomplish what we regard as essential longer-term development opportunities for the College. That process will include discussions with all stakeholders, including faculty, students, staff and alumni.
 
At the beginning of the 2008-09 academic year, we launched a marketing campaign for our annual fund, the TC Fund, and christened it “Better Together.” In these uncertain times, the phrase has become central.
 
For me, “Better Together” means partnership, and partnership begins with uniting the unrivaled breadth of our academic expertise, which encompasses education, health, psychology, nutrition, movement sciences, the arts and so much more. Our comparative advantage lies in bringing these fields together so that we can improve schools and communities in New York, across the country and in those regions of the world where we have a presence.
 
It is because of our ability to unite our faculty and students working in all these different fields that Teachers College historically has been known as an institution of “firsts.”  Faculty such as John Dewey, E.L. Thorndike and Morton Deutsch were pioneers whose novel ideas drew on different disciplines and gave rise to new fields of inquiry. We seek to extend their legacy by supporting our current faculty to reach across disciplines and partner with one another and other institutions to address important problems that affect the well-being of societies around the world.
 
These partnerships extend beyond the limits of 120th Street. They are very much at the heart of the work we are doing in neighboring Harlem, where we have launched a broad collaboration with a group of local schools that will serve as hubs of their communities (http://www.tc.edu/news/article.htm?id=6629). Similarly during the past year and a half alone, TC—the birthplace for the study of comparative and international education—has launched major teacher development programs in Jordan, collaborated on a high school leadership development program for schools in India, and begun working with the President of the Dominican Republic on a model for small schools in that country. These efforts, too, hold the promise of important work and funding opportunities for our students and faculty (www.tc.edu/news/article.htm?id=6832).
 
These are only a few of the exemplary initiatives underway right now at Teachers College. Our culture of innovation is vibrant and alive, and we see it as the key to our continued growth and impact. That culture is reflected in the most important example of partnership of all: the ties that bind the entire TC community. It is because of all of you that Teachers College will not merely weather the current storm but emerge from it even stronger. I am particularly encouraged by our community’s ongoing support for the College. That commitment reaffirms that, in these difficult times, our work is more important than ever.
 
Thank you,
 
Dr. Susan Fuhrman
 
President
 
Teachers College  
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