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Suffolk University freezing salaries for year

University cites drop in revenue, enrollment

Suffolk University, facing a $11 million drop in budgeted revenue and a dip in enrollment, will freeze employee salaries for the next fiscal year.

Administrators said the move is necessary as the Boston university seeks to contain costs while stepping up efforts to recruit students.

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“We continue to build for the future; therefore this budget was created with an emphasis on investing in our students while containing costs to minimize tuition increases,” university president James McCarthy wrote in a message to employees last week.

In May, university trustees approved the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The budget sought to address a “challenging enrollment environment,” McCarthy wrote. Administrators expect a smaller-than-anticipated law school class, a slight decline in the ranks of new undergraduates, and flat graduate enrollment.

In announcing the freeze, McCarthy also cited a $743,000 increase in the university’s contribution to employee health insurance costs.

“With these challenges it became clear that we are not in a position to offer employee salary increases for the 2014-2015 year if we are to deliver a fully balanced budget,” he wrote. “While I realize that this decision will be unpopular, please understand that we are committed to future salary increases, and that remains a top priority.”

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Located in downtown Boston, Suffolk has about 8,800 students. Tuition is about $32,000, with total costs for students living on campus close to $50,000. For the current fiscal year, the university had a budget of $319 million.

University spokesman Greg Gatlin said the budget reflects the financial challenges many private colleges have faced since the recession. In response, Suffolk has sought to streamline costs and minimize tuition increases, he said.

“There’s no question that for tuition-driven universities, like Suffolk and many, many others, it’s a difficult climate, and one where keeping costs as low as possible is critical. That’s something we’re completely focused on,” he said.

Terry Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., said a demographic downturn in the number of 18 to 22 year olds, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest, has put pressure on universities to maintain enrollment. “It’s a challenging environment,” he said, that affects all but the most elite private colleges.

Colleges often turn to pay or hiring freezes in response to financial problems, Hartle said.

“These are usually short-term measures,” he said. “Suffolk is obviously in a rough patch. But the good news is they recognize it.”

Nationally, law school enrollment has also suffered in recent years, with the number of first-year students dropping 24 percent since the fall of 2010, according to the American Bar Association.

“We’re no exception to that,” Gatlin said.

McCarthy, who became Suffolk president in 2012, said the university has cut the travel budget for central administrators.

The budget pressures will not affect a new $62 million classroom complex on Somerset Street. The building is slated to open in fall 2015.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.

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