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Loyalist’s deficit on the rise

Loyalist College president Maureen Piercy has a lot of work of ahead as the college tries to find balance to its budget. Photo by Joseph Quigley. [1]

Loyalist College president Maureen Piercy has a lot of work of ahead as the college tries to find balance to its budget. Photo by Joseph Quigley.

By Joseph Quigley [2]

BELLEVILLE – Loyalist’s budget deficit is getting worse, but college president Maureen Piercy said the school is working hard to balance it for next year.

“It’s our goal and it’s imperative that we meet it,” said Piercy. “Because we’ve had declining reserves. And we’ve been moving towards this objective, we’re committed to do it. The [board of governors [3] is] aware of it, the college’s aware of it, and we’ll be certainly working towards it.”

The college forecasted a $2.4 million operating deficit for this year in their business plan, but a mid-year setback due to less than expected enrollment has resulted in an additional $628,000 being added to that amount. Piercy said that the operating deficit for this year is now predicted to be approximately $4 million, similar to last year’s numbers. This will require additional use of the college’s reserves, which was expected to be at $747,000 by the end of the year in the 2014/15 business plan [4].

Loyalist Finances [5]

A chart representing Loyalist’s operating deficit the past two years. Last year, the deficit was planned to be $1.8 million, but it increased to be $3.7 million by the end of the year. A similar thing has occurred this year, with the planned deficit of $2.4 million now expected to be closer to $4 million.

Piercy said that a substantial part of the deficit comes from the struggles in some of the businesses Loyalist operates . For instance, Loyalist Certification Services [6]experienced its first unprofitable year in 2013/14 after bringing in over $16 million in net profit in the 12 previous years.

“Those are very market sensitive areas and we’ve had some lower results than predicted,” said Piercy. “It’s a global market, and they’ve faced significant competition from countries such as Greece. [These countries] are operating at a very low cost level and it’s very hard to remain competitive. It’s an area of concern and we’re looking very closely on.”

Piercy also spoke about the kind of financial pressures that come with being a college of Loyalist’s size.

“Loyalist is a small college. It’s a wonderful thing in terms of having smaller groups of students and smaller classes in programs, but it does present us with many challenges. We don’t have the kind of economies of scale that larger colleges do.”

http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/piercy.mp3 [7]

Piercy also noted that other factors, such as modest inflation on salaries, pension benefits for non-full-time employees and grant funding not increasing with those additional expenses, are putting strain on the college.

Despite these economic challenges, Piercy said the college remains determined to meet its goal of balancing the budget in 2015-16.

Some of the measures to work toward that goal include working to improve enrollment and student retention, increasing international student enrollment, and increasing tuition costs within the 3% ministry cap. Other cost-saving measures have included reducing some staff and restructuring programs, as well as maintaining the retirement incentive program. The retirement incentive program gives benefits to those who are considering retirement and then choose to do so.

“Like every post-secondary institution, we’re not a business, but we have to operate in a business-like way,” said Piercy. “It’s a very challenging balancing act because our job is to provide the best possible programs and services to students on very limited resources. We use lots of innovation, and our staff are wonderful to find different ways to create revenues and generate efficiencies but it’s a never ending challenge from day to day.”

Loyalist College expects efforts like the retirement incentive program to generate additional savings in the coming years. The government has also awarded Loyalist funding to help evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the college’s programs.

Piercy said that balancing the budget is difficult, but the way forward is clear.

“It’s not magic. You have to increase your revenue more than your costs. And obviously, we do have a significant challenge to do that but we’re taking it on and staff throughout the college are very sensitive to those issues and we’re committed to achieving the goal.”