Tuition discounting… frank talk from Alfred University

Private sector higher education: shrinking over the next 10 years?

In the proverbial interests of full disclosure, I am an Alfred University alumnus, have never attended a reunion event, and have been a very occasional donor. That last category was just frequent enough to keep me on the “alumni and friends” list of people who receive regular updates from the university president, Charles Edmondson. I read everything that arrives.

The president’s Memorandum of December 11 focused on the “fundamental challenges” that Alfred had to meet to “remain the unique institution that you remember.”

A quick summary of the future enrollment challenge:

  • New York state high school graduates will decline nearly 20% by 2019. The decline is greater in the NY areas where Alfred has traditionally had its greatest recruitment strength.
  • The projected decline is even higher among students most likely to enroll at a private sector college or university.
  • Demographic trends are not much better in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
  • AU has never recruited well in the South and West and there’s no reason to expect that to change enough to balance the nearby demographic decline.

For making public comments like these, the president tells us he’s been accused of spreading “gloom and doom.” I hope most people view this as trying to create a realistic view of what’s possible and what’s not in the next 10 years.

Tuition discount: $19 million from $54 million 

Tuition discounting plays a major role here. For the current academic year, the president wrote that $19 million from a total budget of $54 million is supporting financial aid awards. This year about 35 percent of the university budget isn’t available for salaries or facilities or regular operations.

We as alumni are asked to “temper your distress with patience and understanding” as “probable” reductions in programs, “including a sports team,” are determined.

With 2,100 graduate and undergraduate students, Alfred is several hundred students larger than when I graduated. It is more likely than not that in future years enrollment will shrink rather than stay the same. That’s not “gloom and doom,” that’s a realistic interpretation of the likely impact of current demographic and economic conditions.

Survival in the Private Sector 

Private higher education is not about to disappear in the United States. But few instititions have the reputation and the resources to continue over the next 10 years as they have operated in the past 10 to 15 years. That golden era of enrollment growth and facilities expansion just about everywhere is over. 

If Alfred University and others like it survive and thrive it will be in no small part because presidents like Charles Edmondson are willing to talk about “gloom and doom” in public and ask “alumni and friends” to support uncomfortable change. 

That’s all for now 

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