President Merten Addresses Economic Situation; Establishes Adverse Economy Assistance Fund

Posted: February 20, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Daniel Walsch

In an open letter to the entire campus community, Mason President Alan Merten urged staff and faculty to continue seeking ways to operate “smarter and more effectively” during these times of economic downturns in the state and throughout the country.

“As state support declines and day-to-day responsibilities increase, certainly you must question how we can possibly do more. Yet we know we must,” wrote Merten.

“We must focus our efforts on keeping higher education accessible to new and returning students. This will be a monumental task as we brace ourselves for what will most likely be a substantial reduction in state support this coming year.”

Merten also announced the creation of an Adverse Economy Assistance Fund for students whose family’s economic situation has been dramatically weakened by job loss or other catastrophic incidents as a result of the current economic crisis.

Established at $150,000, this fund will used by the Office of Student Financial Aid in conjunction with other available assistance to help students. The Financial Aid Office may be contacted for more details on this new fund.

“Hopefully, this will help make the difference between either continuing their studies or withdrawing from Mason for many students,” Merten said.

Looking ahead, Merten said Mason’s culture is one that is marked by commitment to improvement, “a relentless search for best practices, and a quest for excellence. … There is no easy answer to maintaining institutional momentum during difficult financial times, but being resilient and optimistic is the foundation our plan.”

Over the past few years, Mason has been hit with significant budget cuts. In the 2007-08 fiscal year, it absorbed a 5 percent general fund reduction and another 7 percent reduction in the current fiscal year.

The university anticipates an even deeper cut in state support next year. Despite these economic setbacks, according to Merten, Mason has achieved national recognition for teaching excellence. Additionally, the number of student applications it has received has never been higher, and the quality of its incoming undergraduate, transfer and graduate students is superior to any previous year. Also, Mason’s student retention rate is at an all- time high.

Provost Peter Stearns and Senior Vice President Morrie Scherrens are expected to schedule another informational session on the university’s budget situation in March. The session will be open to the entire campus community.

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