Message from Dan Patterson: New budget process begins

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As we enter our annual budget process, I wanted to share an important message regarding the college’s financial outlook.

As we have shared throughout the consultation process for our new strategic plan, several factors are creating a new financial reality for Ontario’s college system, including a multi-year decline in traditional demographics; an increasingly competitive postsecondary landscape; uncertainty in government funding and an enrolment based funding formula for colleges that, in its current state, will likely lead to funding decreases. These factors are being felt across the sector, and we’re already feeling the effects at Niagara College. Most notably, we have experienced a slight decline in our domestic enrolment over the past two years, and projections indicate that the demographic trends that are driving these decreases will continue for at least a decade.

On the funding issue, Niagara College is taking a lead role with Colleges Ontario in a campaign that advocates strongly for increased funding for colleges, while making the case that funding for colleges is an important investment in the future of our province.

Locally, a declining youth population in Niagara means that we must work harder than ever, and be innovative in our approach, as we seek to maintain a strong domestic enrolment. In recent years we have talked about how all of us can support student recruitment – either in our daily role or by sharing the Niagara College story.  Our shared responsibility as student recruiters is more important than ever, and I encourage everyone to consider how they can support our efforts to bring students to Niagara.

With fewer dollars and declining enrolments, most colleges in Ontario are facing a deficit situation in 2017-2018. As we at Niagara College begin our budget process for 2017-2018, it’s important that the college community understands the impact that these factors will have on budgets college-wide, and the importance of finding new revenue sources and cost savings as we work to achieve a balanced budget for 2017-2018. The status quo is not an option moving forward.

Our budget methodologies will continue to evolve and align with our new strategic plan – a new four-year road map that will bring us closer to a new, long-term vision for success within a time of significant transformation for postsecondary education. Budget decisions will be guided by the priorities outlined in this plan, and will encourage innovation, entrepreneurship and efficiency. Deliberations will be balanced, transparent and evidence-based; and integrated with other processes including enrolment forecasting, program and workforce planning and risk management.

Our current focus is to address our budget challenges by identifying new sources of revenue; finding savings and efficiencies within our existing operations; implementing marketing and recruitment strategies that expand our existing markets and identify new markets; and revamping service delivery models to support student retention and success. Our strategic investments in new and updated facilities are focused on meeting the changing needs and expectations of our students, and enhancing the on-campus experience that we are able to offer.

Contributions from our strong international growth and activities have reduced our budget shortfall, and there will be continued emphasis on international initiatives. However, our analysis shows that revenue growth alone with not be enough to balance our budget.

As our budget process unfolds, we will provide meaningful opportunities for all college employees to offer ideas and input, and to be a part of this important process. One of our strengths as an organization is the resourcefulness of our staff, and we’ll rely on that now more than ever. All of us share a responsibility for the college’s financial strength, and we’ll look to everyone to be innovative; to find efficiencies and manage within reduced budgets. Individual departments and divisions will also be looked upon to find new ways of maximizing resources.

I am confident in our team; we are resourceful and collaborative, driven by an entrepreneurial spirit, and strengthened by an unwavering focus on the satisfaction and success of our students. Working together, I know that we can meet the challenges that lie ahead.

If you have questions or feedback regarding our budget process, please contact Pam Skinner, vice president, Corporate Services at pskinner@niagaracollege.ca.

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