President Scrimshaw and Trustees Respond to Moody's Report

June 11, 2010 at 11:30 am

The following message was sent to all employees of The Sage Colleges on Friday, June 11.

Dear Sage community,

You may have seen the article in today's Times Union about Moody's Investor Services downgrading Sage's long-term debt rating and issuing a negative outlook.

This report is not a surprise, as we work closely with Moody's, and though it does reflect the challenging position in which Sage finds itself currently, it does not mean that our boat is capsizing.

I knew when I became president of The Sage Colleges that I was inheriting a difficult financial situation. This resulted from years of struggling to balance the budget and the effects of the economic crisis. For several years, Sage experienced downturns in enrollment and fundraising as well as recurring budget deficits.

Since I first took the podium as your president, I have been preaching turnaround and leading you in change -- and thanks to all of our collective efforts, it IS starting to work. We have improved enrollment, giving, and visibility, and now we are working hard to fix the budget.

Unfortunately, it takes a few years for our efforts to impact revenue. And with the tighter scrutiny of ratings agencies, the positive progress we have made is not yet reflected in our rating.

However, Moody's did acknowledge our progress in their report. The praised the positive indicators in enrollments and revenue enhancement, and they praised the leadership team and the steps we are taking. In particular, they praised our academic redesign, once again reinforcing how important this venture is for our viability and our future.

As I mentioned in my Reunion Address last weekend, several key indicators are positive. Undergraduate applications are up 10% from last year and 55% in two years, and enrolled students are up 10%. Graduate applications are up 11% from last year and an amazing 107% since 2008, with enrolled students up 59%.

Awareness and visibility in the community and with our prospects and influencers climbs steadily, and attendance at alumni events locally and around the country is blossoming, up five-fold from prior years.

And of course we have very promising developments in giving, with board chair Donna Esteves' $1.5 million matching gift challenge - which is very nearly met - and Sage's Annual Fund outpacing last year, surpassing $1 million, and on target to make its $1.22 million goal by June 30.

The report makes it very clear that a balanced budget in fiscal year 2011 is a must, and today - Friday, June 11 - we are presenting a balanced budget to the Board for approval.

I would not be downplaying this report to characterize it as yet another call to action -- a reminder of our challenges and a validation of our recent successes and trajectory which, with our continued teamwork, will get us through the rapids.


Susan Scrimshaw

Letter to the Editor
First published June 17, 2010

Following the June 11 "This 'B' grade could be costly" story, we would like to offer a trustee's view of the institution.

As is true for many sectors, this is a challenging time for higher education -- a situation noted by Moody's higher education practice. Three years ago, acknowledging its institutional challenges, The Sage Colleges began the transformational process recognized in the Moody's report.

With an energized leadership team, and an excellent faculty and staff, Sage has experienced two years of significant growth in applications and enrollment, and a dramatic increase in fundraising. Members of The Sage Colleges' family continue to expand their leadership roles in our communities. Sage's academic programs are being refined and reoriented to better serve students (and future graduates).

As long-term trustees and Capital Region residents, it has been a source of both pride and excitement to hear so many of our friends comment on the new visibility and enthusiasm of the institution. The board sees a long and vital future for Sage in education, the arts, the professions, health care, commerce and government, locally and beyond.

Jane Altes

Chet Opalka
Averill Park