No. If we continue to operate as we’ve been operating the past five to ten years, everybody will lose their job. We’re taking this approach because we want to preserve Hampshire. We’re affected by the same pressures affecting many under resourced small colleges (and leading to the closing of some) that are dependent on tuition and don’t have large endowments—pressures such as declining enrollments and increased competition among colleges. We’re searching for a partner who will share our values. We want take care of our students, faculty, and staff. We know it’s unsettling and we’re trying to move forward in as caring a way as possible in considering the needs of our community.
The Trustees considered a range of issues in making its decision to admit a small class, including: 1) Our obligation to the students whom we had already accepted. 2) The College’s accreditation with the New England Commission on Higher Education, NECHE, whose standards require that in enrolling new students into a four-year program, a college makes a promise to each student to teach them in the way that it advertised in its admissions materials. We must be confident we’re able to teach them through for four years.
It’s difficult to know what Hampshire will look like in the future, but we’ve been proceeding following some core principles, including preserving our reputation and what is best about Hampshire, advancing our educational model, and looking out for the interests of students, staff, and faculty. The most likely path forward for Hampshire is through a long-term strategic partnership. We believe potential partners will be interested in Hampshire’s reputation and educational model. We all know Hampshire is among the most innovative colleges in the country, requiring students to pursue their passions by designing their own programs of study and recruiting a faculty committee to guide them. Our students become producers and creators of knowledge and are encouraged to make connections between their academic work and participation in the wider world. Supported by narrative evaluations from faculty, rather than grades, our model has been described as “graduate school for undergraduates,” with critical thinking the hallmark of our pedagogy. Since we opened in 1970, our success can be measured in the mainstreaming of many of our experimental ideas in education, and in our roster of alumni achievement. We hope to identify a strategic partner by the end of this semester and work with them over the next year, engaging our Hampshire community in that transition. We have a 50th anniversary in June 2020 and the hope is we’d move to a new model and maybe a new entity in summer or fall 2020.
We’re hopeful we’ll be in a position to admit a full class a year from now, and that in five years and 50 years and beyond, Hampshire will still be operating as a place to get a degree.
Most potential partners want to talk confidentially, at first. There are all kinds of partnership models and possibilities. We know we are attractive to partners who value our different educational model, as so much of education has become homogenized and inflexible. It’s our education model and our people that make Hampshire attractive.
Our goal is to find a path forward that is sustainable for Hampshire. We’ve aggressively studied how we can remain independent. Financially, the College has always been under-resourced. While our endowment is over $52million, many of our competitors have endowments close to or exceeding a billion dollars. Those colleges utilize interest from their endowment to support their annual operating budgets. We have not identified donors willing to donate tens of millions or hundreds of millions in unrestricted gifts to Hampshire that would allow us to operate sustainably.
The College has been trying to navigate the short-term challenges and long-term outlook, and it’s not easy to do both at the same time. Over its history, Hampshire has had years with enrollment of less than 1,000 students. What’s distinct is our model, and our strong reputation will, we believe, bring us through this transition. There’s a core element of a Hampshire education that we believe will always be valuable to students such as: our focus on interdisciplinary studies; our singular, student-driven program; and our divisional system culminating with a Division III year. These are just some of the core elements that we absolutely want to continue under a new partnership.
President Nelson was acutely aware of the headwinds facing higher education and the challenges facing small colleges that are dependent on tuition for revenues but have small endowments. But a few weeks after accepting the position, Hampshire reported new enrollment and yield numbers revealing the College would significantly miss its projections for how many students would enroll in fall 2018. Still, she said she did not once rethink her decision to join and lead Hampshire. President Nelson spent her first months getting to know the campus community and alums across the country. She began the fall semester working closely with the Board and others to explore the strategic options that would achieve long-term impact for the College and its people. It became clear at the Board of Trustees meeting in October that the Board and the senior leadership team needed to quickly develop strategic options toward achieve a sustainable future.