The calm before the financial storm
Athletics and recreation prepare for first wave of university-wide budget cuts with risky strategy
According to Peter Baxter, director of athletics and recreation at Wilfrid Laurier University, the department of athletics and recreation has been able to keep their ship on life support after the first year university-wide budget cuts.
The proposed budget cut for 2015-16 is five per cent, totaling to approximately $139,000.
Additionally, the university has also proposed a four per cent budget cut over the next three years.
According to Baxter, athletics and recreation has been using a “revenue maximization strategy” in order to generate enough revenue to combat the cuts. However the strategy is risky and maintaining revenue generation could be a challenge, as the facility is nearing maximum booking capacity.
“We’re at $1.7 million in revenue, and the students contributions from their fees will be $1.5 million, and the university contribution will be down to $1.3 million contributions, into the overall spending that you have,” Baxter said.
The $1.7 million in revenue that the department has to generate is based on activities, rentals of the facilities, student fees, user fees and fundraising activities in order to support the workings of athletics.
“Now the focus in on revenue is a dangerous strategy because there’s a lot of risk involved. I can have a rain day on a football game and you lose substantial gain. And we only have the four dates,” Baxter explained.
The department has been able to keep their revenue up despite keeping student fees down.
The average student fees at Laurier are $164 to athletics, as opposed to their counterparts at Queen’s University, where students pay as much as $280, according to Baxter.
“We’re at the bottom of the OUA in terms of per student funding, so we’re very efficient at what we do. In fact, I think the number $1.7 [million] sort of speaks to the fact that we’re generating more than the base budget funding of the university and the students.”
The last time athletics had to withstand budget cuts was back in 2008 when a $250,000 cut was needed.
The result was cutting into programming and services, and ending the volleyball program.
“Our staff has done a job of making sure we meet things with minimizing the pain,” Baxter said.
However as in 2008, the revenue maximization strategy leaves little breathing room, especially in regards to the strain of replacing capital equipment in the facility.
“We’re lucky when we bought all the machines in the facility, but on an ongoing basis, we have little [to] no funding for capital replacement. We still have to operate. We still have to fix machines,” Baxter explained.
“Likewise, we still have high-ticket maintenance items like replacement of the turf at Alumni Field, stadium, closing down the pool, long term sustainability [and] intercollegiate costs.”
According to Baxter, Laurier prides itself on focusing on the student experience and the retention and recruitment of the university — something that is crucial to keeping the ship afloat.
Athletics and recreation also plays a critical role in bringing in students to the university.
“Laurier is known as a welcoming community and a big part of that is their experience within athletics and recreation. It’s not for all students but it’s in the majority, we’re the largest access point for the student experience,” Baxter explained.
“Athletics and recreation is the biggest part of the student experience. But it’s a huge part of recruitment and retention. If our mission in the university is the student experience, and you start to lessen that, that impacts retention and recruitment.”
According to Baxter, learning outcomes also play a crucial role in bringing students to Laurier and keeping up with recruitment and retention of the university.
That will be the main focus of withstanding these budget cuts; recruitment, retention and keeping Laurier strong.
“We’re at a point where we’ve been able to maintain things at a certain level but it’s very precarious now — if we go deeper, then there will be major cuts to programs and services that will affect not just athletics, but it will affect recruitment and retention of the university,” Baxter said.