Jo Ellen Parker, President of Sweet Briar College was asked about how the “Flourish” campaign has helped enrollment since its implementation and said that, “The redesigned materials have been in use for less than a year. New student enrollment this fall was 4.5% above last year. We had the highest number of inquiries in 5 years and the highest number of applications in 10 years.”
Parker continued to say that, “The number of requests for more information received through the web site has doubled. Almost 13,000 people have clicked on a facebook ad. So, since the new materials came out, there has been significant increases in inquiries, applications, visits to the web site, and requests for information.” Parker is excited to see this new campaign increase over the years. “We’re hoping to see that trend continue throughout this year!”
Back in 2009 there was an article written about Sweet Briar College, called The Price of an Enrollment Shortfall by Scott Jaschik, addressing the issues of budget and enrollment. The information given is quite interesting and some great comments were made by President Parker.
Sweet Briar College held its discount rate at 42% and the result was an enrollment drop, a budget deficit of nearly $1 million and a new plan to save money. The steps being taken were:
1) All retirement contributions on behalf of employees will be suspended for five months (normally the college pays 8% of salaries into
2) The president will work for two weeks without pay and the vice presidents and deans will work for one week without pay.
3) A small number (up to five) of administrative and support staff positions will be eliminated through layoffs.
Parker said that, “The cuts were designed to show the commitment to going back to full spending on retirement accounts, salaries and so forth. Had the college simply reduced its pay levels a signal would have been sent that perhaps the college was scaling back,” which she said was not the intention.
The college had hoped to enroll 650 students that fall (new and continuing), but ended up with only 605. Most of the lost students were (potential) freshmen, but the college also saw some continuing students fail to return, typically citing the economy as the reason.
The enrollment drop means lost revenue of more than $900,000 out of a total annual budget of $43 million – and that’s significant enough shortfall, Parker said, that cuts were needed. The college has been analyzing the reasons for its enrollment decline, and Parker said that she believes the issue was that, “Our financial aid packages were not competitive.” She said that, “We held our discount rate very closely to 42%,” and that now “we’re reviewing our aid matrix” and “having a discussion” on whether to allow the discount rate to rise.
Prior to her hire the college conducted a major strategic review,” said Parker “and believes that its mission and future are best served as a women’s college. This is part of our distinctiveness, we view it as an asset.”
Corinne Adams, senior at Sweet Briar College also wrote an article, called Increased Faculty Salaries and Student Body Size Key to Sweet Briar’s Success, about the colleges budget shortfall and the new needs to increase enrollment and faculty salaries. Adams wrote that, “Despite this focus on retention, some on campus still question the current financial state of the College, noting rumors that the institution is currently in approximately $1.3-$2 million in debt from building the Fitness and Athletics Center. Parker confirmed this debt, but offered reassurances. ‘That $1.3-$2 million in debt is what we have to fund out of the budget and the endowment,’ saidParker, who added,’If you look at amount of debt versus our annual budget, we don’t have a lot of debt,’ and showed a graph of the College’s performance from the Council of Independent College’s Composite Financial Index. The graph showed Sweet Briar above the level needed to sustain financial operations. Professor of sociology Brent Shea also expressed his confidence in the strategic plan’s potential to ensure financial stability, stating ‘We have a balanced budget and a plan for maintaining a balanced budget.'”
Adams went on to write that, “Shea emphasized faculty retention, as well as student retention, was key to maintaining the College’s viability, Shea also acknowledged that if the College continued the trend of the past 15 years, it might retain all faculty and programs, but that ‘the trend of the past 15 years has been a steady and steep downward trend in the salaries and compensation of professors (in comparison to what they were here, and in comparison to the present average salaries and compensation at most other US private independent colleges).’ Shea noted that while Sweet Briar currently enjoys the benefits of many highly qualified faculty with advanced degrees, many excellent faculty members have left in recent years. ‘Declining faculty salaries and benefits at Sweet Briar make it impractical for some professors to remain here for their careers…. we must bring salaries and compensation up to the average level for U.S. professors teaching at private, independent colleges.’