Monday, August 2, 2010

Associations as Solutions: NAICUSE Summer Workshop

Todd and I are back in Ohio after a four-day conference in New Mexico to meet with all counterparts from across the country. It's always nice to see this group, we are like one big extended family and always sad to leave. However, it is nice to be back in Columbus, in my chair, in my office, with my co-workers.

While in New Mexico we had quite a bit to discuss. The meeting kicked off on Monday morning, bright and early, with a little bit of rain. It is Albuquerque's "monsoon season." Despite the rain, most were in good spirits.

The first speaker of the day was John Bassett, the second President of Heritage University in Washington State and current Chair of the NAICU Board. He took office at Heritage in July 2010 after serving as President of Clark University in Worcester, MA for ten years. Prior to his career at Clark, Dr. Bassett was the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of English at Case Western Reserve from 1993-2000. He is a fellow Ohioan, and received his bachelor's and masters degrees from Ohio Wesleyan University, and his doctoral degree in English from the University of Rochester.

During his talk, he discussed where he saw higher education is headed in this increasingly technology-based country and what role we (independent campuses) will play. He also mentioned specific issues our sector must deal with, mainly the increased federal regulation, challenged financial models, the growth of the for-profit sector, and the changing role of philanthropic foundations.

Later on Monday, we heard presentations with regard to higher education from four experts in the financial arena . John Nelson, of Moody's Investors was my favorite of the four. He knows his financial trends and gave a very intriguing presentation on the need for colleges to be very familiar their competitors and especially their own financial standing. Apparently, if a college is a "member" of Moody's they can check data on all rated colleges across the country, roughly 300.

The golf tournament is always one highlight of my trip with NAICUSE. I have a chance to play my one
round of golf annually and chat with old friends. We didn't think it was going to happen. Did I mention it is the monsoon season? After the majority of us purchased jackets, the temperature soared on the second hole. Everything was great, sun was shining, balls were going where told, sort of, and then it happened again. Over the mountains we saw a large rain cloud and it cut loose and cut us short at the 14th tee box. Oh well, looks like another trip is needed to finish my 18. Oh, and we saw this guy keeping an eye on the 9th tee box..., I could get used to this lack of humidity out here. Even with rain, it still doesn't compare to Ohio!

Later we were able to get a good discussion going regarding the tax credits, tax increases, and new taxes that some states and their campuses have been fortunate enough to fend off. Most states are facing shrinking state budgets and legislatures and municipalities are developing new, creative ways to make up for the deficits. In Maryland they have worked to keep a differentiated rate for nonprofits with regards to energy taxes. In addition, the city of Baltimore wanted to establish a bed capacity fee for private nonprofit colleges and hospitals. The city and nonprofits found a compromise in which voluntary contributions to the city would be made over the course of six years totaling $20.4 million. In Rhode Island, the City of Providence introduced creative ways to spread community expenses (hydrants and firebox fees) to nonprofits and taxpayers. To fight this, their association has had to maintain the close collaboration of member campuses and quantify the consequences. In Massachusetts the state legislature proposed a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) Program that would have imposed an annual 2.5% tax on college endowments above $1 billion (9 members). They previously fought the same proposal in 2008 with a threshold of $250 million endowments, affecting over 20 members. Luckily the municipalities cannot mandate a PILOT, as only the state can enact new taxes, thus keeping PILOT programs voluntary. These sessions were very informative, and very eye-opening.

Wednesday, the last day of the conference, but, there was so still much to discuss. Funding was number one. No shock there. Most states were flat-funded and a nominal few saw increases; Ohio and New Jersey were the only two to have been cut in the last state budget. We will see what the next budget brings, but there are still many factors at play to even venture a guess. Even so, we are optimistic.

Now for the fire hose method of information-sharing: Sarah Flanagan, VP for Government Relations and Policy for NAICU, gave an overview of what is and what is not happening at the federal level. The Maintenance of Effort (MOE) provision is NOT happening, which is good, but it would have been nice to have the provision, but to include independent colleges' funding, not just public campus aid. The Pell Grant increase IS happening. We assume this is happening because MOE is not. And the tax extenders are possibly happening and possibly not. As for the Negotiated Rulemaking process, the comment period ended August 2, and we shall see what comes of that. Many states, including Ohio have taken time to discuss these provisions with their congressional delegation and senators. Credit Hour definition is Ohio's main concern. If you have any specific questions on this, please, ASK TODD.

This was another very good trip and a lot of information to digest on the flight back to CMH.

New Mexico, you're gorgeous, stay that way!

- Dustin A. Holfinger