On April 14, the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine published an article titled “Why some small colleges are in big trouble,” referencing Wheaton and several other colleges in the New England area. The article analyzed the financial stability of many of these smaller private institutions, outlining the financial difficulties faced by higher education institutions throughout the U.S. and in Massachusetts.
The future for liberal arts is a discussion frequently brought up on the Wheaton campus, from President Crutcher’s opening address to the Class of 2017 to the Thought Leaders lecture series that has brought several speakers to campus throughout the semester to discuss the importance of the liberal arts.
While these talks have remained positive, the article presented a negative angle that upset many. Wheaton was reported as being among 25 other Massachusetts institutions that “still had space available in the current class for freshmen or transfer students” this fall and having suffered deficits in the last five years. Citing decreased endowments, falling rates of freshmen enrollment and high discount rates (the percent of tuition colleges pay for financial aid) the financial stability of institutions like Wheaton were called into question.
The article noted that with the present state of the economy, raising tuition alone could no longer sustain colleges, and that 43% of freshman said that cost had been a major factor in their college decision. In one statement, a consulting firm predicted “that a number of small tuition-dependent private colleges will go out of business in 10 years.”
In an email sent out just days later, President Crutcher addressed the article’s alarming predictions and stated that its “selective use of ‘facts’ can be misleading.”
Crutcher included a copy of a letter he sent to the editor of the magazine, in which he acknowledges that the article looks at a very real issue for higher education but that it “pushes the generalizations too far, misrepresenting what is happening at Massachusetts’ private colleges.”
Among other things, Crutcher clarified that the statistic given for Wheaton’s discount rate was misleading due to the way that it had been calculated, and exaggerated the figure.
Crutcher also argued the article’s claim that Massachusetts colleges’ recruitment of students nationwide is a sign of trouble, an argument upheld by those in the Office of Admission.
In fact, according to Assistant Director of Admission Jonathan Wolinsky ’10, Wheaton has a long-standing practice of reaching out to students across the country and has had counselors from the Admissions Office traveling to high schools in California, Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas and Chicago for many years.
“This is not because we need to go to such places to fill beds on campus but because we believe that in order to have a truly diverse student body, you need to have students from a diverse range of places,” he explained.
Despite the daunting prospects the article posed, Wheaton welcomed one of its largest first-year classes ever in the fall of 2012, and Admissions reported receiving a normal number of applicants for the class of 2018.
While he did not dispute all of the claims made about Wheaton’s financial status, Crutcher reassured the community that he remains optimistic about the perseverance of Wheaton and its community.
“Our work together to constantly improve upon the quality and value of a Wheaton education will sustain the college for years to come,” he said.