It is a challenging time to be the leader of a college or university.
With the cost of education on the rise, personal incomes and property values on the decline and an unpredictable professional job market on the horizon, maintaining enrollment and achieving financial stability are challenges for public and private schools across the nation.
is no exception, and Interim President Jon Strauss has been tasked with balancing these financial issues during a time of overall change at the university, all in his first year as the school's leader.
"In addition to all of the other issues—improving our academic programs, developing programs in exciting new areas and all the other stuff that you normally have—we've got this financial challenge facing us," Strauss said.
The Purchase-based school has been eating away at reserves to balance its budget over the last few years. This has become somewhat common for private schools—which usually cost more than their public counterparts—as the recession has families thinking long and hard about how much they are willing to spend on a child's college education.
"Our financial problems aren't unusual, but they are very real," said Strauss. "We are trying to move from an area where we were not covering our full expenditures from our revenues to a future where we will be able to."
Strauss' first year has been a challenging one. He after the of former president Molly Easo Smith. The Manhattanville Board of Trustees turned to Strauss, an experienced college administrator, tasking him with bringing stability to the campus while improving the college's financial situation as they began to look for a permanent replacement.
"There have been some significant changes in leadership here over the last decade and that was having its effect on the community," said Strauss. "People like to believe that their world is, if not stable, at least manageable, and they had this sense that there was turmoil."
But creating stability in a tough financial climate is no easy task. During his first year, Strauss was forced to adjust and review the college's staff, a challenge at a school like Manhattanville. He has also had to make difficult financial decisions about where the school's programs will expand over the last year.
"Those are things you would rather not do in a close-nit supportive community," Strauss said. "People in this world expect stability, frankly, but you do what you have to do."
Fundraising and enrollment continue to be key as the school moves forward. A new marketing initiative, including a were released this spring with the hopes of increasing the college's online profile. Strauss said Manhattanville will continue to invest heavily in programs that help younger students, giving them the resources they need to stay enrolled through graduation.
Day-to-day operations on campus are also an important part of the job, Strauss said. Manhattanville is unique in that many faculty members and upperclassmen live on the campus. The school has a family feel, which makes maintaining a relationship between administration and students critical.
"A major part of my job was to try and re-instill confidence in the institution, build trust, build confidence, build communication and those things we've all been working on," Strauss said.
The school's finances were helped this fall, when an anonymous donor gifted $5 million to the college. Strauss said the money will help fund improvements to the campus' quad, walkways, buildings and cafeteria. The college will spend $3 to $4 million this summer on major improvements to the campus, some of which will be funded by the donation.
The visible improvements are an investment Strauss hopes will help increase enrollment and school pride.
"You naturally get excited when you see investments in something that you are a part of," said Strauss. "They'll see some big investments."
Strauss has committed to return for at least one more year as interim president. He and his wife have enjoyed their time at the school and look forward to another year living on campus. After that, the school's Board of Trustees will make a decision about the future.
"I'm not exactly young anymore, there is a question as to how long I'll have the energy and enthusiasm," Strauss said, noting the difficulty of the position. "You become the embodiment of the institution, it's important that you represent with suitable enthusiasm and energy the hopes and dreams of the institution."
Taking the job at Manhattanville has been far from a caretaker's position, noted Strauss. Coming to an institution as an interim during a time with so much going on has required extensive work and dedication on his part. But looking back at year one, Strauss said he is happy with the direction of Manhattanville.
"I think, overall, good progress," he said.