Last month, Bloomberg published an article titled “The Economics of Small US Colleges Are Faltering.” The report included troubling data about small colleges across the U.S., including The College of Wooster. The article outlines the recent major shifts that are rattling higher education institutions. Using the “stress” metrics outlined in the article, The College of Wooster fulfilled three out of five of their criteria indicating financial strain.
The Voice met with President Anne McCall to discuss the findings of the article to better understand the new president’s prerogative for improving these numbers and Wooster’s lack of response to Bloomberg before the article’s publication.
The information presented in the article examined 973 schools across the U.S. that have less than 5,000 students. The reporters compared data from 2008 to 2021 and identified categories that indicated that a school is facing financial trouble. 170 of the analyzed schools met three or more of the five categories, and Wooster was one of those schools.
While commenters and quotes from the various colleges presented in the article brought up the effects the pandemic has had on universities, Bloomberg asserted that “the trends captured in the data started years before the pandemic hit and some analysts say they aren’t changing any time soon.”
“It is accurate that we meet three of those criteria,” McCall said in a Monday, Feb. 5 interview. She shared that Wooster is experiencing falling yield, higher discount rate and budget deficits –– reiterating information from her State of the College address from two weeks prior.
McCall also believes that the problems outlined in the article are due to the pandemic, aligning with many comments from institutions in the original article. The deferment of millions of students from colleges during the pandemic affected the yield rates of colleges across the U.S. including Wooster, a fact which McCall considered “not utterly bizarre… but unfortunate.”
Although the pandemic may have affected one of the three financial stress criteria, the report documented that in 2008 the College was already meeting two of the stress criteria, therefore the pandemic period can only be attributed to one of the three “stress flags” Wooster had in 2021.
More fortunate than the falling yield, in McCall’s opinion, was Wooster’s high discount rate. “They’re showing that as a weakness and we thought of it as something good,” she said. “We knew if we didn’t offer aid there would be more students who wouldn’t be able to come.”
When addressing the College’s budget deficit, McCall cited her budget realignment plan which was also outlined in her State of the College Address. It is a three-to-four-year plan that hopes to pull the College out of its over $5 million budget –– part of which included comprehensive administrative program reviews this fall and the elimination of a dozen or so of what McCall called “empty” faculty positions, which consisted of not replacing retired tenured professors.
McCall shared that Wooster did not respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment due to the fact that they did not have a present vice president of marketing and communications before the article’s publication on Dec. 14. Alexandra Konstantinos’s tenure was announced two days prior to the publication on Dec. 12 –– but she did not begin working for the College until Jan. 2.
One reason Bloomberg attributed to the falling rate of enrollment was that “confidence in higher-ed has fallen across all ages, education levels and political groups since 2015,” a concern that McCall also touched on in her State of the College Address.“There are colleges all over the country that are closing or are about to close, we are not about to close… but we’re not as healthy financially as we should be,” McCall said. The Voice reached out to a reporter from the Bloomberg article but they declined to comment.