Cuts, clearings, and a closure: three small colleges offer a dark view of 2018

Let me turn now from the fates and possibilities of associations to what’s going on with some campuses.  2017 has seen a continuation of academic cuts from 2016, with queen sacrifices, campus closures, and other grim strategies deployed by troubled colleges and universities.  The year hasn’t expired, but offers still more accounts of this kind of thing.

I’m in wild overdrive this week, between the NMC debacle, arranging holidays for my family, and a sudden health problem, so this post will be a bit tighter than usual:

ITEM: Sweet Briar College will lay off more than  10% of its faculty.  This is part of a curricular overhaul, including implementing a new core.

How many faculty are hit by this?

Roughly a dozen faculty members’ positions will be eliminated, the college’s administration confirmed to Inside Higher Ed Monday. They include tenured professors, tenure-track faculty members and instructors teaching under contract. A total of 10 tenured and tenure-track faculty members are being affected.

Additionally, several faculty members have retired or resigned recently. It was not immediately clear how many have done so.

The departures represent a significant portion of Sweet Briar’s faculty. The college currently has 68 full-time-equivalent faculty members.

While Sweet Briar seems to still be grappling with serious sustainability issues, the college did not describe this move in financial terms.  President Meredith Woo told Inside Higher Ed that “[t]his was based on our own guidelines on academic restructuring and not financial exigency”.

Indeed, this is very much a move based on curricular transformation:

Sweet Briar will cut by almost half the number of majors it offers starting in the next academic year, from 33 to 17. It will shift its core curriculum away from traditional general education courses and toward classes administrators say are better fits for the latest trends in students’ academic interests and careers — in areas like design thinking, sustainable systems, leadership, persuasion and making decisions in a data-driven world.

Now, such a course catalog overhaul is clearly aimed at attracting more students, so it’s not without an economic strategy.

Hiram_SealITEM: Hiram College is clearing the ground for a “an examination of all academic programs”.  In this climate, and given that Hiram exists in demographically challenged Ohio, my readers will be unsurprised to learn this might well mean cuts:

[President Lori Varlotta] said she’s tried to keep any potential academic or faculty shake-ups to a minimum, and put it off until now, after other cost-savings plans have been adopted. But with about $1 million in expenses that still need to be cut, the college has reached the point where faculty reductions are going to have to happen.

Indeed, along those lines tenure and other job protections are now in play:

An idea for the faculty to vote on suspending some of the faculty labor and tenure rules so that the college could act with expediency and flexibility was floated last week, although Varlotta said it “doesn’t seem like that’s going to be a viable option.”

As with Sweet Briar, Hiram is looking to redesign its curriculum for a new audience.  They’ve called their goal “the new liberal arts”.

ITEM: McNally Smith College of Music is closing its doors.  The small, Minneapolis-based, for-profit music school has hit the financial wall.  “Board chair Jack McNally [said] that the college does not have enough money to make payroll on [last] Friday.”

“[O]ur employment has ended and the college is being closed at the end of the semester on Wednesday, December 20,” wrote College President Harry Chalmiers in a different email to staff.

Why led to this?  Dropping enrollment and the failure of a discount strategy: “McNally said the college has suffered under declining enrollment and the need to increase scholarship offerings to remain competitive.”

Interesting angle for a for-profit institution: “[McNally] said the school has been working toward nonprofit status but did not have enough financing to complete the process.”

McNally situated this decision in terms of the general higher education crisis that I’ve been telling you about for the past decade:

“As you all know, in the past few years higher education has been in an unprecedented decline, the like of which has never been seen,” McNally wrote in the email.

Taken together, what do these three stories tell us?

(thanks to Fritz Vandover, Greg Stitz, and other friends)

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8 Responses to Cuts, clearings, and a closure: three small colleges offer a dark view of 2018

  1. ellenandjim says:

    I can’t resist commenting. My younger daughter went to Sweet Briar from 2002-6. These were thus far the happiest years of her life. She majored in music and minored in Latin. Over the four years she joined choir and just flourished among these girls in her singing and composition. She was part of crews putting on plays. There was science and good science: she took a year of astronomy (hard she said) and two courses in digital technology. (She went on to to a MLIS – Masters in Library Science and Technology.) It was a beautiful place with a deeply humane mission, admittedly supported heavily by high tuition fees, especially in the part of the school where equestrian degrees were given. This part of the college was heir to its original creation as a college cum-finishing school for upper class white girls. To have African-American in the college, the school went to court a few decades ago to break the will which provided the money and forbad any black girls. Very sad to see this transformation. It’s no longer a college for educating the mind and spirit. They had a motto as you walked in: they were building young women’s lives. Will they take that down now as they provide for instruments for modern capitalists.

  2. VanessaVaile says:

    However different the conditions of NMC debacle from these “cuts, clearing and a closure,” they all seem somehow of a piece, pertaining to the same unwelcome set of omens.

    • I’m getting that sense of something almost tidal.

      • VanessaVaile says:

        just read Alan’s post, re-reading yours on professional association right now when I noticed your reply — so, very much likewise. Sense-making is an exercise in futility but necessary (or a compulsion). Nobody knows. I find myself thinking of Spice Guild navigators.

        What other structures , institutions, organizations are at risk? How safe are any dependent on grant or public funding?

      • Spice Guild Navigators! Dune is a guide to life.

        Other organizations at risk: if most of higher ed isn’t growing, we won’t be able to spend much on professional development.

  3. Pingback: On the solstice, dark thoughts for 2018 | Bryan Alexander

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