By Professor Doom
The student loan scam hasn’t just hurt our high school graduates, sucking them into a lifetime of debt before they’re old enough to truly understand what’s being done to them, it’s also hurt many small private schools, schools which built a reputation of excellence and dedication to education, concepts of no value to the “more more more” mantra of our self-proclaimed leaders in higher education today, leaders who can only exist because student loans care nothing for quality.
The end result is the small schools are having a hard time competing with huge schools—both offer easy credit, but the larger school has a lazy river, a choice of on-campus coffee shops…and the same accreditation, even if the smaller school has a better reputation. Just the loss of a few hundred students to the temptations of the larger school can be devastating.
And, of course, a rapacious administration can completely destroy a small school’s finances in short order, transferring the school’s wealth into their own pockets. Seeing as there’s nothing to stop this, and no penalty for doing so, this seems to be the more common fate.
On Tuesday, the college’s leadership abruptly announced its closure to stunned and tearful audiences of faculty and students. Officials cited “insurmountable financial challenges,” saying the 700-student college, founded in 1901, would shut down permanently in August. An $84 million endowment, officials said, was not enough to offset ebbing demand for their school in a tumultuous market.
--there was no warning before this point, so it really was a big surprise. What caused the problem, according to admin, was the school’s enrollment went from 760 students to 700 students, over the course of 5 years. Does anyone else think maybe the leadership here could have handled things better? We’re talking less than a 2% decline per year, hardly precipitous.
Today I’m looking at Sweet Briar College, a century-old school with a fine reputation. A very smart friend of mine from grad school, far brighter than me, used to teach there, but after his time at Sweet Briar he walked away from academia, and tossed his Ph.D. in mathematics, to pursue a career in a completely different field, far, far, away from higher education. What he saw going on in Sweet Briar was more than sufficient for someone with his keen intellect to read all the writing on the wall about the fate of higher education.
A lawsuit has been filed to keep the school from closing, but I see little reason for optimism:
In the case at hand, Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer sought to stop the closing, arguing that it would violate the terms of the will upon which the college was founded, and that charitable funds have been misused.
Hmm, money, money that should have been enough, has disappeared. That sure happens a lot in these schools, it’s a shame accreditation doesn’t seem to care. For some reason.
Sweet Briar wasn’t even a free school, in fact it was, on paper, a pricey one: tuition ran $47,000 a year. I specify “on paper,” because the school gave all sorts of scholarships and discounts. Let’s see here, an $84,000,000 endowment, buildings and land all paid for, and 700 students, even if they only averaged paying $10,000 apiece (that’s much lower than the estimated true discount price) would yield another $7,000,000 a year in revenue. You could pay 70 faculty $50,000 a year (more faculty pay than I’m ever likely to see), and still come out pretty far ahead while maintaining a faculty/student ratio of 10 to 1 (again, way better than many schools, in terms of real faculty), with another $3,500,000 a year for expenses, without even touching the endowment.
My very crude calculations seem to indicate the money should be there, I do hope those finances get looked at a bit harder, and I can’t help but suspect the rapid closing is so that there won’t be time for those finances to be studied hard.
Checking the comments section on one of the articles on this closing, someone with more experience in financial matters has also done the math and come to the same conclusions:
700 students x $20,000 is about a $14,000,000 budget from tuition perhaps another $4,000,000 from other sources, brings revenues to around $18,000,000. Estimating a 7:1 student:faculty ratio means they need about 100 faculty members; 66 Full time @ $100,000/yr is $6.6 million; 33 Well paid part time @ $50,000/yr is $1.5 million, total is $8.1 million, Which leaves $10 million/yr to cover other expenditures. I would suggest they get rid of ADMINISTRATIVE BLOAT & then do a better job of recruiting as it sounds like a beautiful campus. Sincerely, Howard M. Konicov, MSES/MPA, Director Adjunct Faculty Association.
Now, often I give the faculty perspective of the plundering of our nation’s quality schools, but this time around I’m lucky to have the point of view of a trustee, one that also thinks something was going very wrong at Sweet Briar, but was pushed out before he could do anything about it.
The title alone smacks of credibility; having been personally chastised by admin for wasting “college time” talking to 14 year olds about the wonders of my (then mostly legitimate) school, with admin telling me that I was wasting time because the school, being a community college, didn’t really cater to 14 year olds, I completely understand how our “leaders” in higher education are hysterically short-sighted.
Before I cover what the former trustee had to say, allow me to give the version of events leading to Sweet Briar’s demise, as told by the Pooh Bahs:
“President Parker provided notably strong leadership at a time when a perfect storm of external forces beyond her control was brewing and which eventually overwhelmed a precious but vulnerable institution.”
Ah, the old “leadership” mantra. I’m sorry, but a 100 year old institution that collapses due to a 2% per annum loss of students over the course of 5 years has, on the face of it, crap leadership. Honest, our “leaders” in higher education give themselves huge salaries and heap endless praise upon themselves, but can’t handle even a smidgeon of adversity. I imagine quite a few of my readers have experienced a 10% loss of revenue at some point in their lives, and yet managed to avoid bankruptcy within a handful of years of such a loss.
Anyway, that’s the leader’s story, and you won’t get anything more than that, not without an investigation, one that is unlikely now that the school is closed. One more look at the leader, namely her pay, which is fairly low compared to many Poo Bahs, although still grotesquely high:
No. 319 Jo Ellen Parker, Sweet Briar College – $319,679
--do math here, and the gentle reader will see each student “contributes” about $500 a year to the Poo Bah’s salary, a person who does nothing for education. My salary would be amazing if each of my students gave me that much every year…
Now, that’s just salary. Perks and benefits, as I’ve shown several times with other Poo Bahs, can easily double, triple, quadruple that amount, if not much more. Hmm, $600,000 every year. Imagine if, instead, a blow up doll was put in the Presidential palace, and we got rid of the Poo Bah (and sold the palace, for that matter). The money from the salary alone would have covered much of the shortfall of the loss of 60 students, total, over the course of the last five years.
This leader, this highly paid leader, can’t handle an institution losing about 2% of the student base a year for five years. But if they’d gotten rid of the leader, the savings from just having a blow up doll would have covered most, if not all, of the losses.
I really can’t emphasize strongly enough that we have too many administrators in higher education, and they’re way too highly paid, and especially so considering their often minimal competence.
Next time around, I’ll look at what an insider, a former trustee at the school, had to say about what happened.