The Oberlin Review

Enrollment Drop Creates Financial Shortfall

Sydney Allen and Alexis Dill

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Oberlin College is looking at a $5 million deficit heading into the 2017–18 academic year due to an unexpected drop in admissions. This not only strains budgets for the upcoming fiscal year, but also points toward a much larger budgetary issue that has been brewing under the surface for years.

Newly-elected Chair of the Board of Trustees Chris Canavan, OC ’84, announced the news in an email to faculty and staff June 14. The email, given to the Review by anonymous sources, was sent just a few weeks before Canavan officially took office, replacing six-year board member Clyde McGregor, OC ’74.

“Although we had already reduced budgets across the institution for next year, this shortfall in student charges will generate a deficit of about $5 million,” said Canavan in the email.

Because of the deficit, the board chose to hold all non-union salaries at their previous level unless otherwise stipulated by a contract, including faculty member salaries, for the second year in a row.

“It’s something that we never want to do,” Dean of the College of Arts and Science Tim Elgren said about the salary freeze. “When we look at a short-term expense issue, there’s almost no way to recover, because we’re fixed in contracts with the unions, and with non-union continuing faculty members and visitors. Holding salaries at zero for a year, which is what happened this last year, is a dramatic step. But it’s the one thing that we can do immediately to have an impact on the budget without people losing their jobs. We hope to not have to go back to that.”

The email also requested that administrators and staff begin looking for ways to cut spending and increase revenue, as the board hopes to reduce college spending by at least five percent over the next decade unless it can find additional sources of income.

“This is intended to give the Oberlin community the breathing room needed to think carefully and purposefully about Oberlin’s long-term financial model, and to avoid making future decisions under financial duress, which almost never leads to healthy decisions,” Canavan wrote.

Elgren noted that the College would do its best to distribute the cuts from falling onto one department or sector by distributing them campus-wide.

“Cuts will be shared over the entire campus,” Elgren said. “Everybody’s in the game. When I talk about departments or divisions, I’m talking about the Conservatory, the College, athletics, student life, and advancement in admissions.”

Within the last few years, Oberlin has seen budget cut initiatives like the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, which offered incentives for early retirement with the goal of decreasing long-term costs; decreased DeCafé hours; and the suspension of most faculty Research Status grants last year. There have also been an increasing number of faculty, custodial staff, and administrative assistant positions left unfilled as some tenured and experienced employees have retired or left the school.

“These are daunting challenges,” Elgren said. “I think we’ve known since the start of strategic planning when I arrived that we live very close to the margin, and the margin is where our revenues meet our expenses. Our projections are that our spending is far outreaching our revenue. Part of the reason President Ambar came here wasn’t to kick the can down the road, but to go at that.

We’ve been thinking about this for a while and coming up with a plan for how to do that.”

Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo said she hopes that these cuts can come in a way that won’t directly affect Oberlin students.

“I think there are some things we will stop doing or cut, but I’m hoping that those are things that are sort of inefficient and unhelpful, so students either won’t feel them or actually will be glad they’re gone,” Raimondo said.

As over 80 percent of Oberlin’s operating budget comes directly from admissions and student charges, this year’s lower admissions rate, in both the returning number of students and incoming new students, is the primary reason for this year’s deficit.

This academic year’s target number for incoming first-year students was 805; the number met was 742. This semester’s total enrollment was 2,815 students, while the conservative target was set at 2,895 students.

Newly appointed Vice President and Dean of Admissions Manuel Carballo says that his office is working closely with students and offices across campus to try to increase Oberlin’s admission and retention rates.

“A lot of these questions came before I showed up, but certainly I think one of my important roles will be looking back to see where numbers have been versus how those project looking forward,” Carballo said. “When we talk about issues of numbers, we are looking at the numbers of students coming into the freshman class and transfers, but also in terms of retention, and numbers of returning students. That can be students studying abroad, students transferring, and students not returning to Oberlin.”

A copy of Canavan’s June email is printed in the Opinions section of this paper.

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16 Responses to “Enrollment Drop Creates Financial Shortfall”

  1. neal workman on September 9th, 2017 11:04 AM

    No problem- just raise the tuition from 60 thousand to 160 thousand.-The students will still come for that valuable degree.

  2. Karen Popkin on September 9th, 2017 3:48 PM
  3. Steven Kennedy on September 9th, 2017 5:11 PM

    A year of social justice shenanigans, followed by an enrollment drop. The Mizzou effect strikes again.

  4. Michael Cobb on September 10th, 2017 10:29 AM

    Wow…I wonder why this is happening?…..sarc.

  5. linda on September 10th, 2017 5:47 PM

    social justice warriors always kill off a school. why would parents want to spend that kind of money for a school that lets a small group of radical bully other students and faculty? your problem is your reputation.

  6. Helen Patrice on September 10th, 2017 8:08 PM

    A lot of parents don’t want their kids Oberlin. They read the articles about what appears to be crazed student activism and the administration’s abetting of it and say “not paying for that.”

    Can you blame them?

  7. Dave on September 11th, 2017 1:27 AM

    “Oberlin College is looking at a $5 million deficit ……. due to an unexpected drop in admissions.”

    Unexpected? Not if you followed what happened at Missouri and Evergreen State. Oberlin earned this.

  8. Oh No on September 11th, 2017 8:58 AM

    I suggest you plan on fewer than 700 freshpeople next year.

  9. Alec Rawls on September 11th, 2017 4:25 PM

    “The Review does not allow comments containing profanity, foul language, personal attacks, hate speech or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous.” This is not all that is being blocked. Oberlin’s systematic suppression of competing views definitely extends to the Oberlin Review.

  10. Wayne Lafluer on September 13th, 2017 7:28 AM

    Remember, in the twaddle driven mind of The Progressive, all non-like minded thoughts constitute “hate speech”

  11. neal workman on September 14th, 2017 4:01 PM

    Been there.I always have comments that hang in the limbo mode of awaiting moderation…. moderation is the form of censorship where views that differs from those in power, or that show those with the moderating powers are not willing to hear a different opinion than those they agree with. When i read my comments are awaiting moderation, my mind has already been conditioned to substitute the words being stifled for the words awaiting moderation. The new liberalism is a state of believing if one cant hear the words, the words are not valid..

  12. jenna on September 12th, 2017 3:28 PM

    I don’t understand, couldn’t they just admit people off the wait list or open up to more transfers? Plenty of rich people want to go.

  13. bob on September 15th, 2017 3:59 PM

    Not by fall. If the bodies don’t show up, there aren’t that many sitting around the waiting list any more. People make other plans.

    And there aren’t that many rich people. The colleges are all fighting over the full pays.

  14. Fred VonFirstenberg on September 15th, 2017 7:24 PM

    Jenna, think, young lady. Someone (quite a few someones) don’t want to pay to attend this school.

    There’s a reason for this. They don’t see the value in attending Oberlin. Something is causing the allure of an Oberlin degree to lose its luster.

    An activist, ignorant agenda by the student body is what I’ll put my money on.

    Think, dear child.

  15. Jack on September 18th, 2017 3:00 PM

    Many people seem to be missing the point. Admissions at small schools is an algorithm problem. Admissions yields have been falling across the country because potential students are applying to more schools and declining more offers of admission. Since Oberlin rejects significantly more applications than it accepts, the acceptance algorithm could be adjusted to compensate for the decreased yield.

    My son was accepted by Oberlin and Reed College, along with several others, out of about 18 applications. He visited both Oberlin and Reed and liked both but decided upon Reed for what I thought were rather flimsy reasons. However, that decision threw admissions slightly further off at both schools because while Oberlin had a shortfall, Reed had more than predicted and he is now part of the second largest class ever there.

    There seems to be a narrative building that allegedly “left leaning” institutions are struggling to attract students. This is clearly not the case as there are still significantly more potential students that were rejected than accepted. I do not know if the total applications dropped off this year but admissions are a carefully balanced game. Too many acceptances overwhelm the resources. Too few leads to a shortfall. There may also have been an imbalance in the mix of students receiving financial aid.

    Some new modeling and more transfer students should fill in the gap. There are still more than enough students interested in attending Oberlin, even enough able to pay full price.

    I liked Oberlin when I visited and I would have been happy if my son chose to go there but he decided upon Reed and I am fine with that too, although over there I am a little concerned that he will be squeezed by the extra, unanticipated students. However, just a few mostly random decisions like the one my son made can make a difference in admissions yield and throw a small school off target.

  16. neal workman on September 21st, 2017 10:09 PM

    nope not gonna happen-cutback in order

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