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Archive for Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Private colleges recover from deficits, low enrollments

August 29, 2006

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— After struggling through declining enrollments and budget deficits in the 1980s, many private colleges in Kansas are experiencing a resurgence in enrollment, fundraising and capital construction.

Marymount College in Salina closed in 1989, and many other private colleges were operating with financial deficits.

"We had for years been running deficits and hoping for better days and hoping things would get better," said Bethany College President Paul Formo.

Mark Sarver, vice president for institutional advancement at Sterling College, said that institution also was significantly in the red a few years ago.

But the current situation is vastly improved.

"We are having a phenomenal year," Sarver said. "We have balanced our budget this year, after many years in the negative."

Better finances have led to increased capital projects. At Wesleyan University, the school has started construction on a new $9.8 million student center, and McPherson College has invested more than $20 million in capital projects in recent years.

And in Lindsborg, Bethany had an open house to celebrate a record-breaking year for fundraising and the fact that the school has had a balanced budget for four of the past five years.

Officials at the schools cite various factors for the turnaround, including better enrollment recruiting - particularly of minority students - and strengthening academic programs to respond to current job markets.

"We're putting more focus on ethnic recruiting," Formo said. "A few years ago, maybe 10 percent of graduating seniors were Hispanics. In 20 years, it might be 30 percent."

Private college recruiters have to overcome the perception that small private colleges are expensive, exclusive institutions for white students, school officials said.

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities says minorities make up 30 percent of enrollment at private colleges but just 27 percent at state schools.

And students from families with incomes below $50,000 are 37 percent of private school enrollment and 38 percent of state college enrollment.

The private colleges also must find the balance between providing the amenities students want and adding new programs for a changing job market. But the schools still have to emphasize academic programs.

"If your programs aren't solid and aren't relevant, you're not going to make it," said McPherson College President Ronald Hovis.

The dilemma at small colleges, Kerstetter said, is "students want the atmosphere of a 1,000-student campus and the programs and services of a 30,000-student campus."

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