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Board approves budget recommendations, reviews operations proposal

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Like many colleges and universities around the state and across the nation, Bethel College faces significant financial difficulties caused by revenue decreases and dramatic drops in the stock market.

In their spring meetings April 2-4, the Bethel College Board approved strategies over the next two years to address budget challenges. These strategies involve increased revenue through modest tuition increases and expense reductions in departmental budgets.

“Both the Board and our accrediting body [the Higher Learning Commission] made it clear in recent months that we cannot continue to operate with deficit budgets, as we have done for many years,” said Barry C. Bartel, Bethel president. “We must develop an operating model that is sustainable at current enrollments and then anticipate increased revenue and increased opportunity with growth and higher enrollments.”

Bethel’s economic situation requires reducing the budget by nearly $1 million over the next year. For 2009-10, this will include not filling a number of staff and administrative positions that have come open this year and streamlining staffing in several areas.

Another action taken will decrease the number of courses taught, intended as a move toward efficient programming through reductions where there is limited student demand. This action means that the 2010-11 school year will see the phased-in elimination of five faculty positions and phased-in reduction to half-time of two faculty positions.

“These actions do not diminish the value or importance of those academic areas or the strength of the faculty, but recognize the lack of demand for certain programs nationally and on our campus,” said Bartel. “Our curriculum must respond to what students are interested in studying.

“We recognize that the programs and the individuals affected by these decisions have committed much to Bethel,” he added. “As administration and Board, our commitment and passion ultimately required us to act in the interest of the institution. We urge others to seek that understanding as well.”

Current juniors and seniors within the affected areas of study will be advised during the coming weeks in order to ensure they are able complete their major. Individual advisors will work with all students to help students achieve their educational goals at Bethel College, Bartel said.

“We are in an era when short-term solutions to difficult issues will not be sufficient,” he said. “Our sense is that it is more critical to support and endow the core of Bethel that responds to more students’ interests.”

The Bethel Board also reviewed the work of administration in concert with faculty and staff leaders over the past two months to develop an operating model that can be sustained at varying enrollment levels. The proposed operating model would be built on larger groupings of faculty to allow for more interdependence between disciplines.

“As a campus community, we have duties to ourselves, our students, our alumni, our donors and to future generations to use the current difficult situation as an opportunity for creative and sometimes hard choices,” Bartel said. “We confront this challenge confident in our foundation in Jesus Christ, reflected in the college seal and passionate about our mission as a diverse community of learners committed to the search for authentic faith and empirical understanding, providing rigorous instruction in the liberal arts and selected career and professional areas and providing intellectual, cultural and spiritual leaders for church and society.

“We confront this challenge thankful for the prayerful and financial support of so many whose lives have been shaped by their experiences here, and mindful of the knowledge that God calls on us to shape Bethel as a stronger, even more vibrant, thriving educational institution,” Bartel concluded in his remarks to the campus community.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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