Marietta College

Marietta College administrators are learning the hard way that one sure way to lose money is to give your donors such cause for concern that they turn off the tap. In what has turned out to be a disappointing financial year, despite the development of new student-retention efforts, the school continues to seek sacrifices from its faculty and staff.

In March, Marietta College cut 20 full-time positions, which reportedly resulted in a savings of $1.1 million. The school is still in the red, to the tune of $2 million for the 2014-15 school year.

But the actions in March – and a lack of transparency on the matter – may have cost the school even more. Donors such as Elizabeth Armor put a stop to annual contributions because of concerns over the administration’s handling of the deficit.

“Nobody ever indicated to me there was a (budget) problem,” Armor said. “It was a big shock to me.”

What a mistake. Colleges and universities may not technically be corporations, but they do have shareholders – or, at least, stakeholders. Though the range of percentages is vast, establishments such as Princeton University see annual alumni giving of 60 percent. It is likely local institutions of higher learning see percentages much lower. However, alumni donors are still an important part of the budgetary equation.

If such an important source of funding is dissatisfied with the college – with its actions and its opacity in regard to those actions – administrators would do well to, at the very least, re-evaluate their communications strategy. Alumni are not simply cash machines; they are important recruiting resources as well.

Marietta College is to be commended for its attempt to seek input from faculty and staff about the best method to implement new reductions in cost. However, Provost and Dean of Faculty Karyn Sprogles – who was out of the country when her letter to college staff was released – has made it clear some budgetary changes will be put in place no matter what decision is eventually made.

Sprogles and the rest of the college administration would do well to make it crystal clear to donors, faculty, staff and students what those changes will be.