Into a brighter future: Canisius’ positive outlook strengthened through financial stability

By Jesse P.R. Prieto and CJ Gates
News Editor and Editor-in-Chief

On the afternoon of Wednesday 5 Sept., Canisius President and former Griffin editor John J. Hurley, fresh off a new five-year contract extension from the Canisius Board of Trustees, stood before the board, faculty, and students to give the community direction towards what looks to be a bright future. The hallowed halls of Canisius College have stood strong for 145 years, and the current administration believes it can maintain these walls for a century more. Following several financially turbulent years, featuring cuts to both budgets and faculty, Canisius is once again on solid financial ground. Since 2010, the College has been operating under a policy of crisis management. As Hurley stated at last year’s convocation, “we determined that, while we had not managed the financial aid process well, we were experiencing a fundamental downward shift in our undergraduate enrollment patterns.” The light at the end of the tunnel looks to be much brighter. As such, the administration believes it is time to step out of crisis mode and into a refocused place of growth, though Hurley was quick to point out the College would not simply pursue growth for growth’s sake.  

In 2009, the College’s endowment, which was largely propped up by real estate, was hit hard as the Great Recession tore through the global economy. While the United States faced a loss of 8.4 million jobs, Canisius lost nearly 50 percent of its college-wide endowment, which dipped down to $57 million in spring of 2009 before it began to steadily climb to the $108 million dollar mark that Hurley announced on Wednesday. The college’s commitment to austerity, shuffling both offices and personnel, and gathering support from alumni and friends has led to the recent turnaround in the endowment’s fortune. Though the road has been rocky and not without controversy, Canisius continues to show signs of triumph as it weathers this storm.

Not only has the endowment gone up, but student retention numbers have also seen an increase as well which, despite freshman enrollment being smaller than expected, has led to an overall undergraduate enrollment that was above expectations, according to Hurley. Additionally, Hurley touted the fact the college finished with its first operating surplus in several years last year and pointed to additional consolidations of the Offices of Financial Aid, Student Accounts and Student Records into one streamlined office known as Student Records and Financial Services Center.

Back in 2013, Hurley openly expressed the College’s budget deficit, lower-than-needed enrollment, and an overall decline in higher education enrollment nationwide. It was a rallying cry, for the community as a whole to continue pressing through in unity as the administration toyed with numbers and future expectations. Despite aggressive recruitment targeting both graduate and undergraduate students coupled with austerity measures, the 2013 academic year saw the college fall short – far short. With an 80% student retention from 2012 to 2013 alone, the College saw a further loss of $2.6 million in revenue on top of the already bloated deficit.

By the same time the following year, campus was straught with change. Faculty was cut, department budgets were downsized, and students bore yet another rise in tuition. 2013 was not without controversy – witnessing a political battle between President Hurley and then-Student President Brock Wilkinson over the presence of a student representative of the budget committee. Tension between the community and administration was further stretched as wave after wave of disappointing slogans, flyers, and letter campaigns were released. The retirement of “Where leaders are made” and subsequent release of “Go Exploring” in 2012 and “Discover” in 2013 was seen as a detrimental blow to tradition as Canisius continued its soul-searching “walk-about.”  Canisius seemed to have rid itself of growing pains as Canisius dropped the five hundred thousand dollar outsourced campaign, and turned inward to reshape its identity.

By the end of 2014 the Career Center, Tutoring Center, Campus Programming Leadership Development, and Residence Life were rehashed into the Griff Center for Academic Engagement and Student Life, creating a more streamlined and economically efficient cohort of student-needs outlets. Financial Aid, Student Accounts, and Student Affairs all shifted, maneuvering around the redrawn bureaucratic lines.

The rebalancing of budgets, repositioning of staff, and the overall reshaping of campus seems to be showing signs of progress. In 2013 the endowment had regained much of its lost strength with $94,479,000 in total. By the end of the 2014 fall semester another $10 million had been added in net value puting the college over its much needed hundred million dollar mark. Having only been in office one year, Vice President for Business and Finance Marco Benedetti achieved remarkable growth by tapping into willing donor base and, more importantly, creating a more diverse balance of assets in the endowment’s portfolio. This year, President Hurley proudly announced that the College’s growth has continued at a sustainable rate and is now at $108 million in net value.

Despite all hardships, Canisius has risen in the rankings placing 451 in 2010 and rising to 435 nation wide according to US News “America’s Best Colleges” in 2015. Financial footing is strong, and Canisius is on pace to maintain a balanced budget; “We are in the best position we have been in, in the last five years,” said Hurley. Much like the rest of Buffalo, Canisius has put its past behind it and is now marching forward to a brighter future.

 

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