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President Hays and other new presidents in greater Boston meet the challenge

September 2, 2011

Boston Business Journal: Freshmen class: Big challenges await bumper crop of new college presidents (subscription required)

By Mary Moore

The biggest crop of new college presidents in recent memory takes office in Massachusetts this fall, a group facing a critical demographic shift likely to shape their tenures — the declining number of college-age students.

As a result, the bulk of the new presidents not only are trying to find their way around their new academic digs. They’re devising ways to attract and retain students.

For them, this undoubtedly is their biggest challenge. For others in the group, finding new ways to raise revenue tops their to-do lists. And all of them are looking for ways to keep tuition low and financial aid robust.

Massachusetts welcomes 16 new college presidents this fall — 11 at private institutions and five in the public system. They are excited — “A blast,” said Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire College.

But while each had a big job before, for most, this one is the biggest. Judith Block McLaughlin, educational chair of a summer seminar for new college presidents at Harvard University, likened it to a high dive.

“When they stand there at the end of the high-dive looking down, they realize a belly flop will generate a much bigger splash than off a lower diving board. And it will hurt a lot more,” McLaughlin said.

No matter how much they prepare for the job, a grim demographic reality remains. Many local colleges and universities have depended on students from the northeast, where the decline in college-aged students is expected to be biggest. Susan West Engelkemeyer, president of Nichols College, plans an all-campus meeting during the first week in September and, topping the agenda will be recruiting and retaining students.

“Folks are trying to be creative and expand their normal circle of recruitment,” said Richard Doherty, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts.

That includes Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College, who looks to draw more students of color from Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Texas — especially Hispanic students, but also African American and Asian American.

“Gordon is a Christian institution,” he said. “There is a connection point between our institution and their backgrounds.”

Emerson College president M. Lee Pelton is looking to Los Angeles, where he plans to expand the school’s current program in Hollywood, and in several years launch a degree-granting program with housing for more than 200 students.

“We’re stretching our campus from one end of the continent of the other,” he said, adding that Emerson will “internationalize”, too, creating partnerships with colleges and universities abroad, including in China and Japan.

A similar eye overseas, Pine Manor College President Alane Shanks plans to draw more students from England and China. Her goal is to attract international students who start with Pine Manor’s English language training, move on to attend the college — and pay full tuition, helping defray the cost for the bulk of the students who receive financial aid.

Shanks and Regis College president Antoinette Hays share a similar vision in creating two-plus-two programs with community colleges, accepting more two-year students who transfer and finish out their four-year degrees. For her part, however, Hays sees the school’s “greatest expansion” in its graduate programs in nursing and health professions.

While most of the new presidents wrangle with student recruitment, several of them said this is not a concern at all — the presidents of Tufts University and Amherst College, both leading highly competitive schools, topping the list. Nonetheless, raising revenue is a challenge.

Amherst President Carolyn A. Martin said 45 percent of the school’s budget comes from its $1.6 billion endowment and, over time, “increased enrollment could be another source of revenue for the college.” Amherst also is in the planning stages with a new science building that will require aggressive fundraising strategies, she said.

Tufts has doubled its undergraduate financial aid in the past decade and is distributing $15 million this year to the incoming freshman class, said President Anthony Monaco. His plans include raising more money for the school’s endowment so it can rely less on tuition, especially because the school is increasing its “research enterprises,” he said, which will require endowment expenditures.

Raising revenue also is a challenge Lash sees ahead of himself, especially as he plans to make the school less tuition-dependent. Hampshire is 92 percent tuition-dependent and has a $30 million endowment, he said.

Fundraising among alumni and supporters will be challenging but not overwhelming, he said.

“The challenges are no greater than I had understood before I came,” said Lash, who is the former president of environmental think-tank World Resources Institute. “I left Washington, which is one of the meanest cities on earth ... I’d rather be doing this any day than lobbying the current Congress.”

Regis College: News and Announcements
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