Lafayette in ‘good shape’ financially despite inflation-induced challenges

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Photo by Trebor Maitin

Becker wrote that the college’s construction remains a top financial priority.

The current high-inflation economy has created issues all across the country, and Lafayette College is no exception. Associate Vice President for Finance & Business Craig Becker wrote in an email that the main problems facing the college due to the inflationary economy are labor and supply issues.

“Inflation is affecting procurement of goods and services. Supply chain delays [are] affecting capital, equipment, and supply acquisition,” Becker wrote. “Labor remains highly competitive in the Lehigh Valley.”

Becker wrote that because of inflation being higher, the college has chosen to reduce its public equity allocation and increase commitments in private equity and venture capital portfolio. Further, even though the endowment has lost money, it is in a relatively better position than the S&P 500.

“While the market environment remains quite challenging, the endowment remains focused on generating good returns for the long term,” Becker wrote. “For the fiscal year 2022, the endowment portfolio lost 2.1% but handily beat its negative 7.3 benchmark and the S&P 500 which lost 14%.”

The construction and enhancement of the college’s infrastructure remain top priorities in the budget. With the new master plan in the works, multiple buildings on campus are gearing up to undergo renovation.

“Maintaining and enhancing the College’s physical- and virtual- campus is a strategic priority of the College. Each year the College commits operating dollars for repair and maintenance and capital dollars for construction projects,” Becker wrote. “This year the College initiated a facility master planning process that will guide capital investments for the foreseeable future.”

Lafayette President Nicole Hurd said that she is in the process of planning a new strategic plan for the college, something that she said hasn’t been implemented since 2007. Hurd added that the college is planning for the next capital fundraising campaign which will set off with the college’s bicentennial in 2026.

“I mean, the good news, the college is in really good shape. And we could always be in better shape. So some of that is fiscal discipline and making sure that we really do invest our dollars well in our students, our faculty or staff or facilities,” she said.

Another consideration with the budget during this year is the large size of the freshman class. While an increased class size also means increased tuition dollars, it comes with a jump in expenses all over campus. Becker wrote, however, that many institutions would much rather this issue than the reverse.

“Having a first-year class greater than target is a problem that makes many of our peer institutions envious,” Becker wrote. “Several of our peers fell short of their targets necessitating the need for unenvious budget cuts.”

Becker outlined the school’s plan for managing the increased class sizes and wrote that the college is planning to track the future and current enrollment in order to better plan the operating budget.

“In the short term, the College will reforecast its current year operating budget after the final enrollment information is received,” Becker wrote. “The larger first year class may incur additional expense for financial aid and resources for academic programming. Longer term, we will take into consideration the size of the first-year class and continuing student retention, which may moderate setting of future year targets.”

Lastly, Becker wrote that the Board of Trustees has been in continuous conversation to develop the goals of sustainable investing.

“Sustainable investing must be aligned with the overall sustainability and Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) goals of the College,” Becker wrote. “In the endowment, the preponderance of our investments has been and remain in sustainable ventures.”