Stacy McAfee says hard choices are ahead for the University College of the Cayman Islands.
McAfee, who became UCCI president in January, is looking at a budget heading into deficit, something she did not anticipate when she took over leadership of the school.
“I knew we were running a very tight budget and there had not been a change in government funding for a number of years,” McAfee said, but she wasn’t expecting to find the expenditures of the campus outrunning its revenues.
“We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about financial sustainability,” she said. “We have some difficult decisions to make. I can’t imagine it won’t have an impact on our ability to serve students.”
Increases in personnel costs are leading expenditures. Last year, government approved a 5% cost of living increase for staff, the first substantive pay increase in nearly a decade. In addition, several vacant positions at the university college were filled and new student resources, such as a lab, were added. Those additional expenses were not offset by increased government support.
Total expenses for the first six months of 2019 were up 5.5% over the previous year. In January, personnel costs were just 3.6% higher than the previous year. Those costs in June, however, were up 24.6% over June 2018.
The university typically runs monthly deficits during the summer. Fewer students attend summer session. Classes are not held in July and August, so tuition revenue drops to zero in those months. This year’s net income figures have been markedly lower than last year’s and the deficit for June is more than double what it was in 2019, $108,935 versus $49,418.
UCCI is required by law not to run an annual deficit. It does not have the authority to raise tuition fees. So cutting expenses or finding additional funding from outside sources are the only remedies.
McAfee was hired, in part, to raise money for the university in the private sector. She said she has made inroads in the few months she’s been on board, but that building such relationships takes time.
“We’re on the hunt for resources, both public and private,” McAfee said. “We have to go about delivering education in a holistic, productive and responsive way. We believe that takes both public and private investment. We’re having strong conversations and helping people to understand and engage with us.”
Still, in terms of finances, she said, “2019 is not an easy year for UCCI.”
She is concerned that the needed support will not come without a change in the way Cayman sees the role of the university college.
“What we’re trying to impact here is much more than workforce development,” she said. “It’s health, it’s safety. We’re trying to create a society that is civically engaged. It’s transformative work in terms of how people think about UCCI and what it can be. I don’t think we’ve been in enough of the right conversations to get people excited.”
She’s hoping that will happen in the coming months as she tries to build stronger ties with the community and local industry. Those in business, she said, should consider what a strong university college means to increased opportunities.
“Everything I’ve seen is that tertiary education is a primary thing that industry likes to look at when they decide where to invest,” she said.
Her job now is to convince more people to invest in higher education in Cayman.
“The type of investment we need in tertiary education is a broad commitment across government and the private sector,” she said. “I think the return on that investment is well documented.”