This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reflections on the closing

Unless you live far from Rensselaer and do not follow any social media, you probably have heard that the Board of Trustees of Saint Joseph's College has decided to suspend operations at the close the school year. In the words of their press release, "[T]he Saint Joseph’s College Board of Trustees voted to suspend all academic activities located on our Rensselaer campus. This will be effective following May 2017 graduation. The College will retain the Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing program in Lafayette, and potentially other programs as long as they are delivered at a location other than the Rensselaer campus."

Naturally students, employees, and alumni are upset and concerned. One alumna staged a one-woman protest on Saturday in front of Halleck Center.

To help students SJC will arrange "teach-out" agreements with other colleges to allow students to easily transfer. Marian College in Indianapolis is already seeking to enroll SJC students.  (I followed a link earlier but cannot find it now.) I suspect students will find it easier to make the transition than some of the faculty and staff. Ability to move from job to job declines as one gets older.

For some perspective on what is involved in closing a college, see this article. The article explains some of what the Board must have been considering in deciding how to present the shut down.

The enrollment statistics for SJC undoubtedly had a lot to do with the decision to close. For the second semester there were 904 students enrolled. 265 of those were seniors, and the senior class was by far the largest, more than twice as large as the junior class at 123. I have not heard any information about how recruiting for the freshman class was going, but if it was another small class as this year's class was, the College would have seen a large drop in enrollment.  The trend in undergraduate enrollment for the past four years has been a decline, from 1060 in the second semester of 2013 (which was the highest since at least 2007) to 988 to 946 to 890. (There were also 14 graduate students, which is why the number is not 904.) With a very large senior class leaving, the forecast for next year was probably low 800s or high 700s for the second semester.

The letter from the Higher Learning Commission explaining why the College was being put on probation noted: "Operational losses increased from $1.2 million in FY 2015 to a projected loss of slightly under $4 million for FY 2016; the College anticipates there will be a deficit in operating losses for the next five years ranging from $3,833,314 in FY 2018 to $4,440,328 in FY 2019 to $4,220,905 in FY 2021."

At this point an interesting question is what will happen to the campus. The buildings were designed for use as a residential college and there are few other uses that can be made of them without major changes. Dividing up the campus and selling the buildings separately would be very difficult because all are heated from the central power plant and all get their water from the SJC water system. Time will tell.

Finally, for those caught in the transition, it is useful to realize that sometimes in life what seems to be a major misfortune turns out in the long run to be something that is in fact very good. Some of the people will find new paths in life that will lead to good things that they otherwise would not have found. (And alternatively, sometimes what seem be be great good fortune ends up being something we wish had never happened.)


Grey Friar said...

This happening now, after the announcement of the partial renovation of Halleck Center and the completion of the renovations of Halas and Gallagher Halls last summer makes one wonder about the choices for spending the funds on those three renovations. I do hope they fixed the water leakage problems in Halleck Center though.

I wonder what the conditions of the bequest for the thousand acres of farm land and the wind mill farm from a couple of years ago were? I remember the college president, perhaps Dr. Pastoor's predecessor indicating that it was a 'financial coup' for the college, decided that 'windfall' was too punny.

Brian Studebaker, Saint Joseph's College Director of Admissions said...

To answer your question on the current admissions numbers, while the past trend was downward, we were on track for a near-record (if not record) year. At the end of January:

1) Applications were up 11.2% over last year (1271 vs 1143).

2) Admits were up 19.8% over last year (957 vs 799).

3) Deposits were up 57% over last year (44 vs 28).

4) Campus visits were up 17% over last year (509 vs 435)

Unfortunately, the issues for the college are larger than what one class can fix.

Anonymous said...

A financial situation like this did not happen in one year. Why weren't things addressed and the situation addressed before it got this far? Was it years of mismanagement? I have known several people who worked there and all said the same thing...there is a lot of money wasted at the college.

It saddens me the people who will be losing their jobs, their insurance with my spouse being one of those. There will be so many people out of work, and not enough jobs near Rensselaer to help them. A good number of these folks are over 50 when it's hard to find a job...any job. It is going to create a dire situation for these folks. For our family. I am angry and saddened that the administration/trustees at this college let the financial situation get to out of control.

Anonymous said...

The issues with the school go back to bad decisions by Skip Shannon which were never rectified or ignored. I wonder when the point of no return was. Bob Pastoor made a number of bad decisions and will rightly shoulder some blame, but was the school beyond saving by the time he got to campus? Based on the numbers they've given, I'm inclined to say yes.

Anonymous said...

What really ticks me off is the fact that they still had kids coming in from all over the country to 'visit' or participate in a scholarship contest, all the time knowing they were not going to be open next year. All these kids wasted their money and time to do this. And why renovate the hall across the street? Why spend the money? You can't tell me that the president and other people didn't know that something was wrong...I mean $100 million in the hole????? That just didn't come about in the past couple of years. To me, once they hit $1 million in the hole, they should have started to see where the problem was and stop it from getting worse. I have a friend that works at the college and he has told me that there were way too many employees for the school....none of them were overworked by a long shot. Guess it will just be another set of buildings that idiot kids can go break out the windows... So sad!!

Anonymous said...

I think we may find out over time that there is much, much more to this story than first meets the eye.