Mercer Talks Financial Stability at Biannual Address

President Peter Mercer, in his 18th State of the College address, expressed confidence about Ramapo’s future, despite some of the “warning signals” he has seen in Trenton.

Mercer’s address, given yesterday in Friends Hall to faculty, staff and students, detailed not only the College’s concerns and areas of improvement, but also highlighted some of its successful developments.

“We tend to be very hard on ourselves at Ramapo,” Mercer said. “We tend to overlook the positive in favor of focusing on the negative. I think we do have a lot to feel good about, and I say that not because I think it’s my job to be a cheerleader. It’s because I think it’s true.”

Mercer cited notable growth in admissions statistics, the launch of new partnerships with foreign universities, faculty and student achievements across the College’s five schools and encouraging figures in college-wide savings as examples of such positive news.

The College’s economic stability was a point of concern for many faculty, as voiced by Professor of Management Susan Eisner.

“At a time of such disarray economically in the country, the world and in higher education, we are really lucky that…we are in a stable position and that we are caringly and attentively being managed,” she said during the question and answer period of the address.

Mercer said that Ramapo’s financing is “strong.” The College has already applied for over $8 million in state and federal grants and the Board of Trustees’ capital campaign has raised $49.7 million, and is hoping to reach $50 million by the end of this year on an extended timeframe.

Further, Ramapo’s endowment is now over $14.4 million and is so far earning a return of 11.5 percent, a yield of $640,000 that Mercer said will be distributed among students and faculty in the form of 330 awards.

Mercer also said that he will ask the Board of Trustees at their Feb. 24 meeting to use some $30 million reserve funds to pay down more than 10 percent of the College’s debt, which would reduce debt service costs by over $3 million a year.

“You’d always like to find yourself in a place of history which was extraordinarily buoyant, or where there was nothing but cash flowing and you could do all sorts of wonderful things,” Mercer explained. “We don’t happen to be in that era, so our responsibility is to be prudent, to be careful, and to make sure that the resources we have are used to the very best, and to make sure that we have a continuing debate about what that is.” 

As for the fiscal woes of the state government, Mercer said Ramapo College–and much of higher education in general–has been a bit ignored. But, it is something the administration is actively working to change.

“I went to the Governor’s State of the State address and listened in vain to any reference of higher education. There was none,” Mercer said. “I suppose the bottom line that’s important to recognize is that the state really doesn’t have any money.”

Mercer added that Anna Farneski, now the assistant vice president of governmental relations, is establishing stronger connections in Trenton and that he is working “to establish the principle that we are due as a college” for state support.

Others expressed interest in the College’s “Pushing Boundaries” marketing campaign and the state of campus construction.

While no formal analysis has been completed, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management Chris Romano said that freshman applications have increased by over 30 percent, likely because of Ramapo’s increased visibility from the “Pushing Boundaries” marketing strategies. He also added that in first-year surveys, more students are reporting that small class sizes and interaction with faculty were key factors in their decision to attend Ramapo.

With regard to construction of the Adler Center for Nursing Excellence and the rehabilitation of G-Wing, TAS Dean Edward Saiff said both projects are moving along. Weather and early problems hampered the nursing building’s progress slightly, and although it is a bit behind schedule, it could be completed in less than a year. Saiff also said that renovation of G-Wing’s top two floors is ahead of schedule, with the hope they will be ready at the end of this semester or in time for summer courses.

“The state of the College, in my view, is actually quite good. We’re in pretty good shape,” Mercer said. “We have many things to be positive about at Ramapo.”