Hotel School May Up Enrollment (Cornell Daily Sun article)

Cornell Daily Sun
By Venus Wu

Built upon the goal of strengthening its position as “the school for hospitality leadership” worldwide, the School of Hotel Administration’s strategic planning report mostly outlines channels by which the school can expand its revenue, such as growing its undergraduate, master’s and executive education program.

As a “tub college” at Cornell, the Hotel School has its own revenue stream and manages its own expenses, but it also pays charges to the University’s central administration and receives money from restricted endowment funds to support its financial aid. This structure contributes to “a historically conservative budget process,” according to the dean’s report, one of the Reimagining Cornell task force reports.

“More than the colleges where the budget has ... gone through the Provost’s Office, we have a very good idea of where every dollar is coming from, and where every dollar is going,” Dean Michael Johnson said. “We’re in a very good position to know what we can afford to do, and what we can’t afford to do,” he added.

In the 2009 fiscal year, the hotel school slashed its $60 million budget by $2.3 million. It cut $1.3 million in non-personnel related costs and $1 million in staff reduction and other areas. The hotel school’s non-academic staff of 120 people has been reduced by 10 percent over the past year. Three staff members retired through Cornell’s voluntary retirement scheme, while nine others either left the University or were reassigned to other colleges, according to Johnson.

The Hotel School’s 10-page report — currently available for review in the Dean of Faculty Office in Day Hall during business hours — consists of two parts. The first part includes suggestions put forward in May by a task force of five faculty and staff members appointed by Johnson. Their suggestions helped inform the main report, in which Johnson and his executive team of five deans and the general manager of Statler Hotel outline nine main recommendations.

“What I wanted to do with the faculty and staff task force was really have a different set of eyes look at all the same data we’re looking at and give me some fresh input,” Johnson said. “But ultimately the decisions are the school’s decisions and the decisions that I have to put forward to the provost.” Johnson added that having faculty and staff involvement would also help them prepare for future changes.

Regarding faculty, the deans’ report states that the hotel school “must continue to build an excellent research and teaching faculty by recruiting and retaining professional faculty in areas that play to [the hotel school’s] strengths.” The report also says that the hotel school has stopped three out of six faculty searches.

Growing the undergraduate program is a main focus of the hotel school’s report. The class of 2013, with 180 freshmen, is already about 15 students larger than the average class size, due to a “historically high yield,” according to Johnson. Even so, both the dean’s and the task force’s reports agree that the hotel school could and should further expand its undergraduate student body.

“Can we add to our undergraduate student body without sacrificing the unique quality and culture that we have in our ability to train leaders? I think we can,” Johnson said.

He said that the hotel school is in a unique position as it strives to train the top leaders in the hospitality industry while other schools may be offering programs at the management level. Although he said the school “has the best program in the world,” it “cannot be myopic” as thousands of other programs emerge and expand around the globe.

“If you just look at the sheer volume of students coming out of other four year programs here in the United States ... eventually that is a threat to us, competitively, in the sense that there will be many more people out there with non-Cornell degrees leading companies than Cornell degrees. So it is something long-term that we have to worry about,” Johnson said.

Apart from augmenting the hotel school’s student body, the deans’ report also urges the University to provide more support for Statler Hotel, a learning laboratory for hotelies and an employer of approximately 200 students and 120 staff.

Under the recommendation titled “secure the future of Statler Hotel,” the dean’s report says, “Given the Statler Hotel’s important role as a public good for the entire Cornell community and its role as de facto visitor’s center, [the hotel school] implores the University to revisit the changes and costs it places on the hotel. From a facilities standpoint, the Statler is a 20-year-old structure that will require significant capital expenses to maintain the facility over the next 10 years.”

While other universities, such as Michigan State, Penn State and Dartmouth, provide funding for their hotels’ capital projects, the Statler’s revenue is generated solely by itself and the hotel school, according to the dean’s report. Moreover, the hotel is also required to pay an administrative fee to the University, but this policy is absent from many other university-run hotels.

“We like the fact that we can do this for the University — that we can run the hotel and its restaurant — as part of the service to the University. But it has to be something we can afford. And that’s getting more and more difficult given the fees that the University is charging the hotel,” Johnson said. He said he hopes to work with the Provost and the Budget Office to make sure the fees are not excessive. He added that the hotel school is also committed to fundraising.

While the hotel school looks to expand its master of management in hospitality program, the challenges are very different from those of growing the undergraduate student body because the MMH program lacks a large qualified applicant pool, according to the dean’s report. Currently, 68 students are enrolled in the one-year program — of those, 29 will spend six months on Cornell’s Ithaca campus and the other six months in Singapore’s Cornell-Nanyang Institute.

Johnson said he hopes the CNI program can grow from its current enrollment of 29 students to about 50 students.

The faculty and staff task force report, which was presented to the faculty of the hotel school in an open forum on May 6, proposed several bold changes. For example, it suggests that the hotel school use undergraduates to conduct admission interviews, but Johnson said yesterday that the hotel school will only ask faculty, staff and alumni to interview prospective students.

The task force report also states: “The University should focus on cutting programs that are inefficient and cannot support themselves rather than undermining the vitality of an efficient and world class school.”

Moreover, it suggests the hotel school offer a joint Executive MBA program in hospitality management. While Johnson said this is “a good idea,” he added that the primary goal right now is to grow the MMH program’s application pool.

The faculty and staff task force report was prepared by Trustee Ezra Cornell; Statler Hotel’s Director of Rooms Geoff Gray; Director of Graduate Studies Prof. Tim Hinkin, management; Prof. Daphne Jameson, managerial communication; and Prof. Mike Lynn, marketing and tourism, according to the University’s strategic planning website.