Hampshire College was on the verge of just a few years ago.
The Liberal School in Amherst, Massachusetts, which first admitted students in 1970, has long been known for its focus on alternative education and self-study. But in early 2019 announced its leaders that they are looking for a long-term partnership in the face of financial problems. Shortly afterwards the college board voted not to accept next class for next fall.
These decisions have provoked intense reactions, changes in leadership and efforts to rebuild the college for the future, while maintaining a traditional focus on independent work and close collaboration with faculty. Hampshire eventually accepted students in 2019, but there were only 13 students in his fall class – up from 273 first-year students a year earlier.
The new administration of the college has worked to resume admission activities. This is in the midst of a $ 60 million campaign to raise unlimited funding for operating expenses, which has brought in nearly $ 34 million so far. And this month, Announced Hampshire that 255 students have made deposits as of May 1 deadline, ahead of the target of 240. Add about 50 expected transfer students, and the college expects to welcome about 300 new students in the fall.
An attempt to rebuild Hampshire comes at a time of strong concern to private nonprofit colleges, faced severe financial pressure. Higher Ed Dive spoke with Ed Wingenbach, who was appointed President of Hampshire in August 2019, about efforts to rebuild the college and what other institutions can learn from his experience.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HIGHER ED DIVE: Is your ultimate enrollment goal back to 2019?
Ed Wingenbach: Our ultimate goal is to exceed this figure. We would like to enter classes from the mid to high 300s over the next three to four years so that we can return to a set that is approaching 1100 or 1200.
What was the total revenue this year?
There are about 470 of us on average per year. Next year we expect it to be 510 to 520, depending on how the content is shaken out.
In the fall of 2019, there were 13 freshmen in the incoming class. Next year we hurried better, but next year the senior class is a really small elementary class. If they graduate next year, and if we bring in 300 students next year, we will then jump into the 700 range, and then next year we should be close to our goal.
What did you do to recover the revenue figures?
Perestroika involved a lot of hiring and hiring in a way that really deliberately focused on finding people who wanted to be creative and wanted to try to become supporters of the unique and experimental approach that Hampshire offers. There was a kind of opportunity to resume the enrollment operation, which is clearly focused on the values and missions of the institution and enthusiastic about the new innovations in the curriculum that we were trying to promote.
This is one. Second, we’ve really changed the way foster careers here have collaborated and worked with marketing. And we’ve invested a lot in trying to rethink how Hampshire conveys its distinctiveness externally in a way that we’re not afraid to potentially distract as many people as we’ve attracted.
We had this constant refrain: “If 30% of people who see this don’t say, ‘My God, I don’t want to do this,’ we’re probably doing it wrong.” It was a real focus on trying to identify and reach out to students who will be most interested in what we do.
And third, it was the adoption of digital methods and data-based techniques that modern enrollment operations really need to hit.
The college said it was able to break through with students who have not traditionally attended Hampshire – from states such as Arkansas, Nebraska, Utah, South Carolina and Kansas. And 29% of the incoming class identify themselves as black, indigenous and colored people. How did you do it?
A strategy or tactic of very, very clear designation of our distinctiveness means that when we stand in front of people, we tend to hold their attention better.
As for diversifying places where we don’t usually see students, I think that’s a lot of what we’ve focused on modernizing data usage, as well as focusing and understanding students ’demographics so we can find places beyond our traditional markets that looked like places where there were students who might be interested in Hampshire.
Has the pandemic made this process easier or more difficult?
I think it made it harder for everyone. This made travel difficult and also made it difficult for people to come to campus. We have been particularly attentive to COVID and continue to be particularly vigilant. Because the surest way to attract students is to get them to visit your campus and people are reluctant to go, there have been some problems.
Has this changed what you see from prospective students?
It’s more intuition than fact, but I think the pandemic experience for many students has made them more attracted to the idea that their undergraduate education should immediately join the issues and concerns that concern them.
They see all these problems that exist in the world, such as climate change and the predominance of whites, trauma in society and the uneven impact of the pandemic, and think, “We have to work on such things. I don’t want to have to wait four years and then go to graduate school and then wait three years before I can start this job. ”
And I think many of these students experienced pandemics often involving much more independent work because they were more open to ideas or interested in the idea of entering college, which gave them more control over their own direction and curriculum.
Has perestroika given you lessons that may be applicable to other colleges?
Yes. Some, if I had a time machine, could be recommendations as to what needs to be done in Hampshire by 2019.
Of course, in small colleges you have to have a very clear idea of what you are doing well and how important what you are doing well and how important what you are doing well is what you cannot do elsewhere.
What does this mean in terms of what people can really do? Well, in Hampshire in the fall of 2019, when we started this recovery process, we enrolled people from all over the college – faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents – and did this really intense work to imagine, “What will be the most distinctive, exciting , the exciting future of Hampshire that will matter to the world and fit our mission? ”
Let’s agree on what that is. Let’s do it strictly and sort out our options, but let’s agree on what it will be.
What does it look like in practice?
Our faculty, students, and staff have worked together to say what four issues do we really want to build our curriculum – both academic and collaborative – over the next few years?
They can change over time.
Four questions we have created: how do we perform our duties in a changing climate? How can creative practitioners deal with trauma, both individual and collective? How can we disrupt and destroy white supremacy? And how do we understand the truth in the post-truth era?
Think about everything our world is facing now, our society and what our students care about. Here are the basic questions. This is what people care about, and so give students the opportunity to come to college where you can use sociology, chemistry, philosophy and geology and all these different disciplinary tools to try to come together to buy what we could on the most in fact to make progress on these really basic issues, that’s what humanities education should be.