Hanlon’s spring class to dissect College budget

by Elizabeth Smith | 3/23/14 7:53pm

Over 150 students, faculty and staff will learn about the intricacies of Dartmouth’s financial planning process in the Office of the President’s new program, “Inside Dartmouth’s Budget.” The program, launching this term, aims to promote greater understanding of the College’s budgeting process, College President Phil Hanlon said.

The 166-person program consists of five two-hour sessions that will run from April 2 to May 1. Hanlon, executive vice president and chief financial officer Rick Mills and vice president for finance Mike Wagner will lead the program. Several professors have been involved in planning discussions and will participate in a panel on the last day of the course, Hanlon said.

The series will focus on exploring Dartmouth’s costs and funding sources, College spokesperson Justin Anderson said in an email. It will also examine higher education funding trends, how universities allocate resources and how broader economic trends change access to higher education, Anderson said.

“The budget touches everyone’s Dartmouth experience, whether you’re a faculty member, staff member, student, or a parent,” Hanlon said.

While participants will not receive credit, they will be expected to complete readings and do in-class work Hanlon said..

After the program was first advertised via email on March 5, its 100 spots — 50 for students, 25 for staff and 25 for faculty — were immediately filled, Anderson said. The Office of the President added 66 extra places.

When he served as provost, Hanlon led a similar, for-credit course at the University of Michigan in fall 2012. While budgets are similar across institutions, he said, the 50-student Michigan course also addressed considerations relevant to a public university, like public and political support.

Mahnum Shahzad ’15, who is enrolled in the course, said she expects it to provide more transparency surrounding the College’s priorities.

“We hear a lot about what Dartmouth should be doing with its money, and it would be nice to talk about the constraints the actual decision makers face,” Shazad said in an email.

Skye Herrick ’17, who is not taking the course, said she approved of opening the discussions to students, as many are likely interested in the College’s fiscal priorities.

On March 8, the Board of Trustees approved a $1 billion operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year and a capital budget of $54 million, which will be used to fund projects like replacing Memorial Field’s west stands and a renovation of Alumni Gym.

According to the College’s financial statements, Dartmouth’s annual operating expenses grew around 15 percent — from $724,951,000 to $835,273,000 — between 2008 and 2013, the most recent year available. Meanwhile, its revenues grew around 24 percent over the same period, from $670,817,000 in 2008 to $833,491,000 in 2013.

Hanlon said he hopes the program will boost participation in dialogues around the budget on campus, including among students. If students better understand budget decisions, they can advocate for funds in areas important to them, Hanlon said.

“We hope to educate a critical mass of people about how every individual can influence the budgeting in a positive way,” he said.

In advocating for potential improvements to the College, he said, students could be helped by understanding constraints on financial resources and the decision making process.

After the program ends, the sessions will likely be broadcast, Hanlon said.

Assuming interest continues, the program will be held in future years.

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