Compensation Forum with University Leaders Covers Financial Picture, Strategic Investment in HR

| June 15, 2012

To help meet the strategic prism objective of investing in human resources, Webster University remains committed to offering competitive compensation to reward and retain current employees while also expanding by attracting new ones.

Initiatives like the Global Leadership Academy, Webster Wellness programs, staff development funds, and job reclassifications – 38 reclassifications were approved for the new fiscal year, which means there have been 85 reclassifications in the last two years combined – are all components of meeting this strategic objective, which is essential to advancing the University’s mission.

Another component of this objective: Webster was able to provide a two-percent merit pool increase to faculty and staff members, authorized by the Webster University Board of Trustees, for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The merit pool raises, based on individual performance, come in an environment where many colleges and universities are foregoing raises or even resorting to layoffs due to challenging local, national and global economic conditions.

“The utmost job of the administration is to provide circumstances in which our organization will be financially viable in the long run,” said Provost Julian Schuster during a June 7 staff compensation forum. This specific meeting was requested by the Webster Staff Alliance and, in the spirit of investing in human resources, agreed to by Webster administration.

Schuster was joined by Betsy Schmutz, associate vice president and chief human resources officer, and Greg Gunderson, vice president and chief financial officer, to help update staff on Webster University’s financial picture and progress in the three-year plan to benchmark and adjust faculty and staff salaries in response to the Mercer compensation study. (The three-year plan was outlined in the Feb. 10 email to staff from the President and Provost, and the WSA provided updates in its May 16 email to WSA members.)

The Financial Picture

Schuster helped to paint the economic reality that Webster University and many of its academic peers face.

“We will try to minimize the discrepancy between what is desirable and what is possible,” Schuster. “The only way we do that is to generate more resources for this institution.”

Enrolling new students and inspiring donor support are two key ways in which to generate new resources, says Barbara O’Malley, associate vice president and chief communications officer.

“As we approach our Centennial in 2015, we are poised to tell the many success stories of our 155,000-plus Webster University alumni who have achieved success around the corner and around the world,” O’Malley says. “This will serve to motivate and inspire new students and donors as they see the real value of a Webster University education.”

At the WSA forum, Gunderson re-emphasized the fact that the University’s budget is based 97 percent on enrollment. With current figures tracking a projected $1 million revenue shortage and overall worldwide enrollment in a relatively flat pattern, that creates financial pressures that require close monitoring – particularly in an environment where fixed expenses are increasing each year by about three percent. (Fixed costs include utilities, health insurance, housekeeping and food service contracts, library databases and IT software licenses and site leases for extended campuses.)

Additionally, maintaining a competitive edge is critical to increasing enrollment. Tuition increases have been kept to a minimum — and are among the smallest of any peer institution in the St. Louis region.

“We’ve positioned ourselves over the next three years to hold the line and have our tuition grow at a rate lower than inflation,” said Gunderson. Further, the need to award scholarships and grants to attract potential students also remains high. Therefore, the need to build the endowment is equally urgent.”

This fiscal approach supports the Webster University mission of being committed to student success.

Planning for the Future: Where an Operating Margin is Critical

Schuster also explained the value of maintaining an operating margin. It serves as a cushion during challenging times while also helping to fund mission-critical programs that will build stronger enrollments, such as much-needed replacement of the science laboratories, which serve one of Webster’s most popular programs.

Likewise, continued investment in key areas such as military education and information technology is essential to keep the University financially healthy in the long term. Webster’s Proud-To-Serve Scholarship Program is an example of linking our financial strategy to our strategic goals.

Gunderson said that many of Webster’s peers in higher education are in a period of retrenchment. Pointing to news of layoffs, hiring freezes, furloughs and other significant budget cuts at many public and private institutions, Gunderson added, “We have been relatively blessed to be in an environment where we have not had to face those kinds of retrenchment actions.” Peers in St. Louis and across the U.S. have taken such measures, with higher education layoffs and freezes hitting the news frequently in 2012.

Stewarding Webster’s Future by Working Together

For Webster, continuing progress during difficult economic times means working hard – and smart.

“Only motivated people can perform,” said Schuster, discussing on-going plans to revamp the University’s evaluation system. Schuster noted that the new academic and administrative review process will be objective and will reward the hard worker.

“We need to have a sufficient amount of resources to address the needs of this institution to fulfill its mission and its vision,” Schuster said. “And part of the mission of this institution is to be a place of choice for employment of the people who want to be here. It behooves the administration to create the circumstances in which employees choose to be with us and grow both personally and professionally.”

The administrative panel was moderated by Bethany Keller, Webster Staff Alliance (WSA) compensation chair, and the administration presentation was designed to update the current financial picture, outline the strategic approach to balancing compensation with institutional financial health, and respond to key big picture questions. If you have specific questions about individual performance review and compensation matters, address them to your supervisor or to Human Resources as appropriate.

The event took place in the Winifred Moore Auditorium and was broadcast live for extended campuses. To review the presentation, go to: http://youtu.be/rO4wABRhaoE.

Category: Employee News

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