Stewardship of Resources
An Interview with V.P. Steve Thiesfeldt
Professor Steve Thiesfeldt has served as a science professor at MLC since 1997 and as vice president for administration since 2000. Previously, he served in administration at Luther Preparatory School and Martin Luther Preparatory School.
College debt has now surpassed credit card debt in our country. What measures is MLC taking to keep student costs low?
Some experts suggest that debt load for college graduates has had an even greater impact on our nation’s economy than the downturn in the housing market. While higher education costs as a whole have seen rapid inflation in recent years, MLC has kept annual student fee increases in the 3-5% range. That is difficult to do when employee health care costs alone increase at rates more than double that amount. But we strive to maintain both efficiency and quality in our academic programs, and our dedicated faculty and support staff are key ingredients in making that happen. MLC was recently noted as having one of the lowest room and board rates in the country. At the same time, we maintain a quality food service that serves students from 7:00 a.m. to midnight and consistently receives high ratings from the campus family. We appreciate the support provided by the synod and its constituents, whether through synod subsidy or individuals’ gifts to our various scholarship programs.
MLC has deferred many maintenance and renovation projects in the past several years. Going forward, what projects are top priorities?
- Finish reroofing of all major buildings
- Remodel locker rooms (first update since 1968)
- Replace desks more than 50 years old
- Finish remodeling Concord and Augustana Hall restrooms
- Restore auditorium (first update since 1968)
- Finish 20,000 square feet of new chapel basement
- Construct outdoor track
- Renovate HVAC system for greater efficiency, and add AC to four dormitories
Right now, annual budgetary capital improvement dollars for programmed maintenance and improvements like these are less than 1% of the replacement cost of our buildings. One industry standard suggests a minimum of 2.5%; some suggest 4% to keep facilities up to date and in good repair. As good stewards of the properties entrusted to us by the synod, we will need to find a way to close that gap in the coming years.
The Strategic Plan calls for an Economic Sustainability Fund. Could you discuss the need for this fund?
The Economic Sustainability Fund (ESF) is a reserve fund to help the college weather fluctuations in enrollment and synod subsidy. The enrollment has fluctuated between 650 and 1050 undergraduate students over the past decade. Synod subsidy has fluctuated from a high of about 40% of operating costs to less than 10%. The college operates most efficiently with 800-900 students, and subsidy levels in recent years have stabilized at just under 20% of operating costs. The administration’s goal for the ESF is 25% of the annual operating budget. At today’s levels, that’s about $4 million. The Higher Learning Commission, our accrediting agency, asked us to develop a plan for financial stability; the ESF is a major part of that plan. During the current biennium, the college has had a deficit budget approaching $1 million. The ESF has helped us to weather that situation without making drastic cuts in staffing or programs.
A new chapel was completed in 2010, and a new early childhood learning center will be built, God willing, in 2013. Are there any other major construction projects on the horizon?
The master plan includes a field house for intercollegiate basketball, indoor track, and tennis. It would also provide for expansion of our intramural programs, personal recreation options, and a place for spring sports to conduct early season practices, especially during the long winter months. We look forward to the day when the Lord will provide us with the means to build this structure.
Ideally, what economic position would you like to see the college in five years from now?
There are several keys to financial stability:
- Maintain consistent and predictable synod subsidy;
- Achieve and maintain reserve fund of $4 million;
- Increase student assistance dollars by $100,000 annually;
- Target an enrollment of 800 undergraduates;
- Enroll 150 graduate students and touch all 2,700 WELS teachers through continuing education; and
- Increase annual facility maintenance funding to $750,000.
Article taken from the July 2012 edition of the MLC InFocus.