At a time when many private and public colleges are beset by financial hardship, Keuka College continues to buck the trend.
Sound fiscal planning and careful budgeting have enabled the College to generate a string of annual budget surpluses while investing in campus improvements.
The College ended the 2022-23 fiscal year this summer with its fifth consecutive budget surplus.
“That’s an impressive feat, especially given the challenges many colleges are facing today,” said College President Amy Storey. “And it demonstrates Keuka College’s financial stability.”
It was a team effort, said College Vice President for Finance and Administration Bob Baumet.
A college-wide focused commitment to the thoughtful use of resources has enabled the College to invest millions of dollars in campus improvements while decreasing the cost of attendance through increased scholarship opportunities offered to students.
Another reason for the budgetary success: College leaders were not caught flat-footed by the 2020 COVID pandemic – at least in terms of its financial ramifications.
While the College had to maneuver quickly to provide remote instruction when the nation went into lockdown in March of that year, its leadership had already anticipated many of the higher-education challenges the pandemic magnified.
“We knew even before the pandemic that we faced increasingly high hurdles in the form of declining high school enrollments, evolving expectations from students, and competition from alternative institutions like trade schools,” said President Storey. “COVID put these challenges in overdrive.”
Because the College had begun positioning itself to address those issues, it was able to more readily meet the fiscal demands the pandemic created by, for example, more quickly discontinuing undersubscribed academic and athletic programs already identified for closure.
“Because we’d been preparing for the enrollment challenges, we were able to do much of our right-sizing early in the pandemic,” said Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Pete Bekisz.
Investing in Students
That’s just part of the story. Along with pandemic responses were long-in-the-works initiatives aimed at placing the College on stronger financial footing. Among the decisive steps taken in recent years:
- Closing on an $11 million USDA loan that allowed the College to purchase the previously leased Keuka Commons building at a savings of several million dollars over the next 30 years. The College also refinanced higher interest-rate loans with the low-interest USDA loan.
- Obtaining a USDA-guaranteed loan of $6.15 million through Canandaigua National Bank and Trust Co., enabling the College to restructure debt at significantly more favorable interest rates for additional savings.
- Building up its unrestricted reserves by more than 85% since 2018.
The moves were complex and time-consuming but they helped the College solidify a financial foundation from which to invest in its physical plant.
One big example: This spring, the college unveiled a three-year, $6 million capital plan that includes renovations and improvements for its residence halls, library, and infrastructure – all to be funded internally by the College without the need for additional debt.
The College’s solvency has made it a go-to for less-fortunate institutions that have been forced to close their doors amid post-pandemic economic struggles. Both Cazenovia College near Syracuse and Medaille University in Buffalo established teach-out agreements with Keuka College to help their students more readily transfer and complete their education.
“We’re committed to keeping students' time-to-degree completion and financial commitment the same or less as they matriculate at Keuka College,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Brad Fuster.
That’s the type of assurance that couldn’t be made – or kept – absent the financial stability Keuka College has maintained.
And that’s the point, says President Storey. Keeping the College’s financial house in order isn’t the ultimate goal; it’s the means to the ultimate goal.
“Without the necessary resources,” she said, “Keuka College couldn’t fulfill its vision to bring strength to the nation and help to humanity.”