At last year’s State of the College Address to faculty and staff in March, President Warrick L. Carter boldly admitted that perhaps the college was “asleep at the switch” in regards to retention and enrollment. As this academic year’s anemic figures come out, the significant enrollment slump is yet more proof of how much damage being “asleep at the switch” has done.
The college’s enrollment numbers have been declining significantly since 2009. This year, Columbia’s enrollment totaled 10,783 students, down 842 from last year. Since 2009, the college has lost a whopping 1,681 students. This year’s drop could leave Columbia with approximately $17 million less in funds.
While the college may have missed out on gaining and retaining more than 1,500 students, it was not “asleep at the switch” in 2010 when it jumped on the opportunity to purchase a new building costing $4.75 million.
The college was not asleep at the switch last year when it brought in expensive consultants to guide the “transparent” prioritization process that ultimately caused chaos and possibly tarnished the college’s reputation.
On top of that, the college’s endowment fund of approximately $103 million, as quoted in 2011 financial reports, is not at all large enough to rely on. While we hear excuses like Columbia does not churn out wealthy alumni who can augment our funding with donations, Rhode Island School of Design, one of Columbia’s direct competitors, has approximately $278 million tucked away, according to 2011 financial reports.
The college is taking necessary actions to regain those lost students, including its plan to recruit students in China because “that’s where the money is,” according to Carter. But China isn’t going to fix our problem. Our problem is that our administration overslept, and now the entire college is feeling the repercussions.
If the trend continues, Columbia will be left with hundreds fewer students and a bunch of buildings that may not do us any good if the college doesn’t have students to fill them. And the negative press the prioritization process generated probably didn’t send prospective students beating down the doors to get in. It’s a little too late to say recruitment should have been the college’s first priority. At this point, all the college can hope for is a swifter response when the money stops flowing.