Updated: Nov 23, 2022
By Emily Rosenberg
The University may sell Linsley Hall because of declining enrollment and the University’s financial challenges, according to Executive Vice President Dale Hamel.
Hamel said in addition to repurposing Linsley Hall, the University will propose raising student fees for Fiscal Year 2023-24, ending a freeze voted on by the Board of Trustees which kept tuition and fees level for three academic years.
Hamel said the University’s goal in five years is to have a balanced budget without the use of reserve funds, adding one of the largest areas where lower enrollment impacts the University is residence halls, as participation in housing is decreasing.
He added the Board of Trustees elected to use a portion of reserves, based on expectations of state funding received in the past, over the next five years to help get the University to a balanced budget.
Approximately 45% of undergraduate students, 1,350, participate in housing. This decline in student residency has resulted in a loss of revenue of approximately $2.3 million, Hamel said.
The University’s “all funds” budget is approximately $170 million for FY23, including $39 million in financial aid, Hamel said.
Student revenues make up approximately 27% of the University’s $135 million operations budget, which provides funding for all other financial avenues such as personnel, capital projects, utilities, and maintenance.
One of the reasons for a decrease in resident participation, Hamel said, is that “students got used to commuting” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added 25% of undergraduate students now take two or more online courses.
He said before the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 65% of undergraduate students lived on campus.
Linsley Hall opened in 1971 and was renovated in 2002. It is the only residence hall on campus featuring air-conditioning. Its capacity is 157 beds and it is also the only residence hall to offer 12-month housing.
Linsley Hall also houses MassBay Community College students, international students, and students who require housing during vacations and summer breaks.
The budget approved in May by the Board of Trustees projected an enrollment of 65 more students than actually enrolled in the fall, Hamel said. Overall, the University has 40% fewer students than in pre-pandemic years.
He added this enrollment decline impacts the University’s budget by approximately $10 million - 1,000 students at $10,000 per student.
Hamel said financing residence halls is “like a mortgage.” Framingham State works with the Massachusetts State College Building Association (MSCBA) to lease the buildings.
The MSCBA is an organization that provides construction for residence halls, dining halls, and campus centers across the state.
Hamel added in the past couple of years, the University had to “refinance” payments made to the MSCBA for residence halls such as Miles Bibb and West halls.
This is done two ways, Hamel said - a state appropriation or a debt service reserve. A state appropriation is when the University pays the MSCBA with state funds. However, the University has not elected to use state appropriations.
A debt service reserve is funds the University sets aside from previous years as a guarantee to the MSCBA that the University has at least one year of payment in the budget.
Hamel said the use of debt service reserves brought down interest rates for the residence halls below 3%. At that point, when the bonds were being restructured, the University did not need the debt service reserves. “So that has now been freed up so we can use [the debt service reserves] over the next couple of years to fund the deficit that is being generated in the residence halls.
“At some point, we need to make some changes to get to a balanced budget without use of those debt service reserve funds,” Hamel said.
Hamel said repurposing Linsley Hall will not only eliminate debt service, but it will also “drive down the operating cost” of residence hall services such as heating, electricity, and maintenance.
In the past, the University has sold other properties such as its Franklin Street parking lot to relieve its financial burden and consolidate the University’s space, he said.
Hamel said the University has been “exploring potential public use options that could also align with our academic programs, although the associated state agencies have not expressed a desire to actually own and operate facilities” such as Linsley Hall.
He said, for example, the child development labs are located on campus, but Framingham State is not financially responsible for them. The goal for Linsley Hall is to find a use for the building that will benefit the University academically, he said.
He added the University will be pursuing other options in “upcoming discussions” with the MSCBA and the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, the agency that owns the property.
Glenn Cochran, associate dean of students, said about 25 students currently participate in 12-month housing in Linsley Hall.
He said enrollment has also been declining at MassBay Community College, which Framingham State has partnered with to provide student housing. This decline has contributed to the lower number of residents.
Increasing financial hardship during the pandemic may also be playing a role in the lower number of students choosing to participate in housing, Cochran said.
Residence Life's marketing strategy is that it is convenient to live on campus. “You are more likely to be able to [reach] a faculty member during their office hours that you might not otherwise if you had to wait three hours - work, go home, and come back if you are commuting.”
He said Residence Life has been active on social media, and held events during the summer to encourage student interest in living on campus.
He said closing Linsley is about getting “housing inventory to the right size for our needs as a campus. I think there's actually some opportunity in it because now we can stop and look at what we can do to configure the spaces that will be most attractive and of interest to the new population that we have.”
He said Residence Life is also exploring the option of offering “premium singles” to accommodate the rising number of students who want to live in double-as-a-single rooms since the pandemic.
Cochran said it has been challenging recruiting student desk attendants for the residence halls due to decreased enrollment. Therefore, closing Linsley Hall will result in “one less security desk.”
SATF Treasurer Sam Houle, who is ARA of Linsley Hall and a senior history major, said as a student leader who interacts with Linsley Hall residents and uses the 12-month housing himself, he is concerned as well as curious where the University will house the students who live in the residence hall during vacations and summer breaks.
He said he agrees with the decision because of the declining number of resident students, but considering that Linsley Hall is the only residence hall with air conditioning, the University must take into account students who use 12-month housing during the transition and find a suitable alternative.
“This is their home, not just the college that they go to. There is no ‘home’ to go to. This is it. Those are the ones who are going to bear the brunt of this decision. Making sure that the execution is handled properly” is extremely important, he said.
Hamel said a study is underway to see where air conditioning can be most cost-effectively provided in order to support summer residency.
Houle said he would like to see the transition handled in a way that is environmentally conscious.
Nina Eldam, a sophomore biology major, said she lived in Linsley Hall during the summer while working as an orientation leader.
She said she didn’t feel comfortable because of the unappealing atmosphere of the building, adding while the building is air conditioned, it is still one of the hottest buildings on campus because the air conditioning does not work well.
The University should renovate and keep the building because Residence Life needs the beds in case the “[student] population grows,” Eldam said.
Emily Teabo, a senior marketing major, said she thought closing and selling Linsley was a good idea because she lived there as a junior and there were not a lot of people living there with her.
“I don’t feel like it will impact students that much,” she said.
In addition to the possibility of Linsley Hall being sold, the University will also propose raising student fees for FY24, Hamel said.
“After three years of level fees and trying to address the enrollment issue, there's just no way that [that a balanced budget] can be maintained,” he said.
Hamel added Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) moneys are being used to balance the FY23 budget, and accommodate for a $3 million deficit.
Hamel said the University froze tuition and fees to help retention and enrollment. However, with the deficits the University is facing, that is no longer feasible.
He said funding from HEERF is what mainly made the tuition and fees freeze possible. With this emergency funding program ending by the end of FY23, the University will have to look for other means to help fund operations.
“We're very fortunate that HEERF funding has been able to mitigate much of the deficits the last couple of years, as well as this fiscal year. Because of that, we haven't needed to address the deficit and basically tap into the reserves as much as we will in the upcoming year,” Hamel said.
He said in terms of balancing the budget, raising student fees is always the last resort, adding the Budget Planning Committee runs through various exercises before finalizing decisions.
Hamel added the University will be lobbying for the University’s “fair share” of funds provided by the Fair Share Amendment for a number of reasons, one of them being to mitigate student fees.
The Fair Share Amendment is a bill that passed as a binding referendum during the Nov. 8 election. It taxes individuals reporting an income over $1 million an additional 4%. The amendment is projected to bring in $1.5 billion for public transportation and education.
The University has a proposal for how they will allocate the fair share money if the Massachusetts legislature votes to allocate a portion of it to higher education, Hamel said.
He added the use of reserves will continue to increase if the legislature does not vote to allocate funds from the Fair Share Amendment to higher education and specifically to FSU.
“When costs increase, the funding either has to come from the state or from the student. Of course, the additional state funding can cover the incremental costs of what had been covered from the state and from students. We wouldn't have to raise fees for that second piece - the state basically picking up those additional costs,” he said.
Hamel said ironically, the enrollment decline impacts financial aid in a positive way.
“We've been fortunate in many ways over the past few years, that the reduction in student revenues has been made up by increases in financial aid. That just gives you a level of funding while your expenditures continue to grow,” he said.
Hamel said the University’s discount rate, the amount of institutional revenue that is returned to the University for financial aid, has increased during the period of lower enrollment.
About 10 years ago, the discount rate was “below 10%,” Hamel said, adding the University’s rate is now at 25%.
The reason the University’s discount rate increased is because institutional aid increased by awarding larger financial aid packages to a smaller overall student population, Hamel said.
SGA President Dara Barros said level tuition and fees was a “safety net” for students. “The fact that it will be rising is going to affect a lot of students who relied on their bill to stay the same.”
However, she said “enrollment is going down,” and that is affecting the Student Activities Trust Fund, which provides money to student organizations on campus. She said raising student fees will allow the University to have a “lively campus.”
Raising student fees “allows students to be more engaged and as well as have more opportunities on campus because the number of students that we have on campus with enrollment” has significantly impacted the amount of money SGA has been able to allocate to student organizations and events, she said.
Thomas O'Leary, a freshman business management major, said raising student fees will affect students’ decisions to attend FSU. He said depending on how much the fees increase, he will have to take out more loans to pay his bill, which he believes to be true for other students, too.
He added affordability was what made him decide to come to FSU over UMass Boston.
“The big thing about this University is its affordability,” O’Leary said. He added although the University is solving its financial problems, “we're lessening our attraction to future classes of students.”
Olivia Manzue, a graduate student, said “college in and of itself is a financial burden on most students.”
She said while it will be difficult to “keep up” with fees when they are raised, “it will be a good thing as long as it [the allocated money] is something that will ultimately benefit the students.”
Jenna Butch, a sophomore fashion design and retail major, said it is unfortunate that fees will increase next year because there are already certain fees that lead to students having to make “cuts in their lives.”
She added in general, “college is expensive, but we’re really lucky to have what we have here.”