Board of Trustees approves budget, operating expenses increase by 3.4 percent

Luke Chinman and Izzy Polanco

The College will provide more information about department-level changes in the budget at the faculty meeting on May 10. (Olivia Jo/The Williams Record)

The Board of Trustees approved the College’s budget for the 2024 fiscal year at its quarterly meeting last week, President Maud S. Mandel announced in an email to the College community on Thursday.

The College’s budget draws from various revenue streams and its endowment to account for its expenses every year. The budget for the 2024 fiscal year includes $292 million in operating expenses, a 3.4-percent increase from the 2023 fiscal year; $130 million in operating revenues, a 4.4-percent increase from the 2023 fiscal year; and a $162 million draw from the College’s endowment, slightly less than the three-percent increase from the 2023 fiscal year, Vice President for Finance & Operations Mike Wagner told the Record in an interview.

“The budget is intended to be a reflection of the College’s priorities, values, and aspirations about what it’s hoping for in the future,” Wagner said. According to Wagner, these considerations include the College’s academic and residential missions, as well as equity and sustainability considerations. The budget brought before the Board of Trustees for approval includes “the overall allocation of funds” rather than individual department allocations, which are at the discretion of department managers, he added.

Overall, expenses in the 2024 fiscal year budget rose roughly $8 million due to inflation, which — along with changing investment markets — was one of the primary factors considered in the budget planning process, Wagner said.

In October, the College asked department managers to identify 15-percent cuts to their budgets for 2024 fiscal year as a result of inflation and the endowment’s losses in the 2022 fiscal year. Managers were informed that these cuts could be made by reducing managers’ budgets or eliminating vacant positions as they saw fit, Wagner said. He and Provost Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 were then responsible for reviewing the proposed cuts before bringing them before the Board of Trustees for a vote.

According to Wagner, every department met the 15-percent reduction target, which reduced expenses in the final budget by roughly $9 million. These savings and inflation-based additions — combined with roughly $3 million in new College expenses — all contributed to the overall 3.4-percent increase in expenses from last year.

Wagner acknowledged the challenges of balancing the College’s various values when making budgeting decisions. “[It’s] all wrapped around having disciplined management that recognizes resource constraints in the near term and the long term,” he said. “Even a place like Williams has resource constraints.”

In terms of revenue, the College’s comprehensive fee rose by five percent to $81,160 for the 2023-2024 academic year. The College also saw a $2 million decrease in current-use giving — a program composed mostly of alumni donations — which likely fell because donors were more conservative due to the tumultuous economy, Wagner said.

To cover the difference between its revenue and increasing expenses, the College will draw $162 million from its endowment, a three-percent increase from the draw in 2023 fiscal year, Wagner said. For the 2023 fiscal year, the College drew 15 percent more from the endowment than it had in the 2022 fiscal year as a result of inflation and market volatility. This year marks a return to a smaller draw increase as a result of a sustainable level of inflation, more stable investment markets, and efforts by the College to reduce expenses.

The approved budget also includes a $340,000 cut in student employment, down from the anticipated $1 million cut in October. This reduction was, in part, informed by the College’s estimate that student employment has fallen by 25 percent since the implementation of its all-grant financial aid program, indicating less student interest.

The budget also does not include any specific funds for pandemic-related costs, consistent with budgets over the past three years, Wagner said. Instead, in the 2021, 2022, and 2023 fiscal years, the College incurred $14.6 million in additional expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The College, however, has recovered $5.4 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which reimbursed colleges throughout Massachusetts for pandemic-related costs.

According to Wagner, the College will provide more information about department-level changes in the budget at the faculty meeting on May 10, including which departments will see cuts to student employment.