King’s has faced deficits for the last four years, but the school’s balance sheet could soon look a lot healthier, after the announcement of $2.2 million in annual funding from the provincial government.
The school is also seeing steady enrolment and increased residence occupancy.
The new provincial funding was announced in December and is equal in size to King’s’ previously projected annual shortfall in a moderate budget scenario.
“The government funding is (equal to) the immediate term calculation of what our structural deficit would be in the absence of the funding,” said president and vice-chancellor William Lahey.
As is typical of university operating grants, the amount will also continue to rise any time the provincial government increases overall funding for universities.
Now, with the new funding, Lahey says that continued enrolment growth could eventually lead King’s to post-budget surpluses.
Enrolment for the current term of the Foundation Year Program – the best predictor of the overall student body for future years – is 190 students (seven more than the bursar’s office projected last October).
The higher enrolment is due in part to improved student retention. Five FYP students left between the first day of class and Oct. 15, which is common, but no other students dropped out during the rest of the fall term.
The overall student body is also larger than was budgeted for. There are currently 876 enrolled students – 88 more than expected.
According to the 2018-19 budget, it was estimated that 221 residence beds would be occupied this year. In fact, 240 residence are occupied, and that number has never wavered since move-in day in the fall.
Lahey says part of the reason for the higher occupancy rate is that several students, who could not be accommodated at Dalhousie, are now living at King’s. Next year’s preliminary budget also anticipates the same occupancy levels, according to bursar Bonnie Sands.
This series of fortunate events marks a shift from several years of falling revenues and worries about rising operating costs.
Between 2010 and 2014, the provincial government cut King’s’ operating grant by 10 per cent (more than $600,000) and prior to the 2018-19 academic year, had restored only part of that amount. Meanwhile, staffing costs have been on the rise, and the fees paid by King’s to Dalhousie to cover the costs of instructing students at both universities have increased.
Overall enrolment also fell from a high of nearly 1,200 in the fall of 2013, to fewer than 850 by the winter of 2016.
With the improved recruitment levels and sizeable increase in government funding, however, Lahey is optimistic about the university’s future.
“We’re either going to be in a balanced budget position for a significant period of time, or we might be in a small structural deficit, but not as serious a deficit as we otherwise would have been,” he said.