EU Leaders Give Community Update

On Feb. 16, members of EU’s Leadership Team addressed the faculty and staff about the state of the community following the layoffs of last semester. These leadership team members included President Duffett, Pernell Jones (VP for Finance and Operations), Dr. Kenton Sparks (VP for Marketing and Enrollment), and Lisa Titus (VP for Advancement). Duffett began the meeting: “We hope to give a bit more attention to where we are in terms of finances, what we’re doing in admissions, what we’re doing in terms of capital campaign and fundraising – those are the things that we want to focus on.”

Pernell Jones, aiming to lay out the financial state of the university as discussed with the Board, spoke first. Beginning with an update of Eastern’s budget for the current fiscal year, Jones noted that Eastern has a budget deficit of about $1.2 million, and anticipating the financial statement from January, that deficit will be about $3 million. There are a number of challenges that Eastern faces with this budget deficit, the first of which is enrollment; expecting their numbers to drop by 50 students, Eastern was not ready to handle the 150 students that did not enroll this past year. Furthermore, Jones mentioned that the EU Academy Charter School at the Falls Center site was unable to pay their sublease for both this fiscal year and last. Because of this, the university will take $1 million hit. Altogether, Jones predicted that Eastern will face a budget deficit of $3 million.

Jones noted three strategies that the leadership team has implemented in light of their financial circumstances. First, an immediate freeze of all non-essential expenditures, such as travel, food, professional development, equipment, supplies, etc. Second, a staffing freeze; all vacancies, promotions, and payroll adjustments are suspended through the end of the fiscal year. Though these two may resolve the deficit anticipated, Jones recommended a final strategy that the team has implemented: a voluntary salary pledge for faculty and staff. This personal pledge is not mandatory and can be a percentage of one’s annual salary or a specific amount. Why voluntary? Jones explained, “We feel like mandatory pay reductions, even though the circumstances fully call for it, would be too onerous…If we do it as a voluntary pledge rather than an across-the-board salary reduction, it provides the opportunity for us to take that reduction over an extended pay back period and it also provides tax deductibility benefits.” Perhaps most importantly, Jones quoted Psalm 126:4-5, noting that this voluntary pledge should be viewed as an act of worship, “a demonstration of faith – our faith in God and our faith in the work he has called us to do.”

To note, the campus master plan that was implemented in the fall will be put on hold for the time being while the planners identify low-hanging fruit that can be fixed now in the midst of reorganization. The planners anticipate refreshing the plan at the May 2016 Board of Trustees meeting.

In light of enrollment and advancement challenges, Dr. Kenton Sparks laid out a number of strategies. They include expanding “name buys” (acquisition of potential student names) to other geographical areas (Ca., Co., Az., Western Pa., etc.); adding/investing in key academic programs such as nursing, business, engineering, and criminal justice; improving campus infrastructure; branding a better reputation; developing the capacity for predictive modeling; improving student retention through student engagement (i.e. Center for Teaching and Learning, Center for Student Success, Office for Talent and Careers); targeting areas of financial aid; and reducing the number of core credits for transfer students to six.

Along with these strategies, Sparks also noted the difference in deposit numbers from years previous — Eastern currently has 141 incoming student deposits as opposed to the 115 of last year. With encouragement, he said, “When a student comes into your life, ensure that you’re there for them, that you’re caring for them, and that they are our first priority, as our customer and as our brother and sister in Jesus.”

Lisa Titus followed Sparks with remarks about fundraising, with Eastern taking on an ambitious annual giving goal of $2 million and a comprehensive campaign to raise $60 million. On March 5-6, the Board of Trustees will go on a retreat to develop a strategy for the campaign. Titus noted that through board involvement and investment, the leadership team’s insight, and intentional visits to donors they are hoping to raise money for the campaign. Titus noted, “We are looking under every rock for every legitimate donor.”

Dr. Duffett ended the meeting by posing some rhetorical questions to the faculty and staff, “The issue we’re trying to face now is this: what is the future of EU? Why have things gone wrong? Why couldn’t we turn this around?” Duffett continued, “I believe there is a future for us…And I think that building our future together is based on the abundance that this institution has demonstrated in the present and in the past.” After a long pause, Duffett announced that he has voluntarily taken a salary reduction, saying, “I want to get behind what we’re doing here. I was first in line to take the cut.”

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