UPDATE: We aren’t the only ones concerned about Shorter’s bottom line.
A few days ago, the Rome News-Tribune published an editorial regarding the enrollment at Shorter and Berry for the Fall semester. The editorial wisely cautioned the reader not to read too much into the numbers that were published for each college. Little do they know what good advice that was, however; numbers do matter.
Berry College showed a significant upsurge in enrollment. They should be rightly proud of their new record. They reported 716 new freshmen enrolled for the semester. On the other hand, Shorter has been noticeably reluctant to publish their numbers. When the numbers did come, Shorter’s announcement gave a number of people pause.
The announcement began with the heralding of the university’s Princeton Review rankings. Now, Berry College had reason to cheer when it was named as one of the 322 most environmentally conscious colleges for 2012. As its announcement, and a reading of the Princeton award qualifications state, the award was based on a 2011 survey of colleges across the United States and Canada. (In the US News college rankings, Berry ranks#124 in the list of National Liberal Arts Colleges, Shorter is reported as “rank not listed”. Berry is ranked #230 in private colleges on Forbes Best Colleges list. Shorter is not listed at all.)
Dr. Dowless, on the other hand, announced that “We are pleased with the recognition that the Princeton Review as again given us (emphasis, the author’s). The truth of the matter is that unlike the Green award given to Berry, the Best Colleges rankings are only formally conducted once every 3 years. In viewing Shorter’s profile, one finds that Shorter University is listed as Shorter College, and comments are still the same as they were back in November 2011. Chances are pretty good that a formal survey was not conducted last year; therefore, Shorter is still on the Best Regional Colleges in the Southeast list. We would be appreciative if any of last year’s students let us know if they were surveyed in the 2011-2012 academic year.
Of far more interest to us is the enrollment figure that was given. Dr. Dowless takes great pains to announce that Shorter has had enrollment over 1,500 for the third straight year. What he does not say, however, is far more telling. He has announced that the enrollment for Fall 2012-2013 for traditional (normal college age) students is 1528. According to the Shorter Fact Books, the main campus enrollment for 2010-2011 was 1555. The main campus enrollment for 2011-12 was 1696, including 52 main campus graduate students. The Princeton Review undergraduate figure is given as 1642. That would indicate a loss of 114 students for the current academic year. The whole truth is that while the reported figure is above 1,500, it is down substantially from last year and is also down from the 2010-2011.
Normally, Shorter, like Berry would report the number of new freshmen that it had on campus and would break down the student enrollment, if asked by the local paper. This year, they refused to do so. Why would numbers that usually were readily given now be kept so close to the vest. After all, the Shorter announcement trumpets “strong enrollment”. If enrollment is strong, does it not stand to reason that the university would be happy to provide that breakdown?
If you have not driven to the Shorter campus recently, we would suggest you do so. Numerous reports from frequent visitors to the hill and from students indicate that there are plenty of parking spaces available this year. Not so in previous years. Students report that their class sizes are down, many of them substantially. Freshmen are bewildered as to why the robust classes that they saw on their visit to campus now contain far fewer students than they were led to believe would be in their program. Construction on the new dormitory has been slowed.
Last year, approximately 200 students were housed in off-campus apartments. This year, no off-campus housing is being used to house students. There are reports of at least 40 beds available in the residence halls. If Shorter is only down by 114 students, does it not stand to reason that all of the residence hall beds would be filled and at least some off-campus housing would be necessary? The whole truth is that simple math would tell you that it would be.
We suspect that the real enrollment number that Shorter is down this year is somewhere between 260 and 300. Shorter trustees, we are asking that you demand an accounting of exact figures at your board meeting in October. Be sure you ask for non-duplicated numbers ( duplicating numbers is a real no-no to federal reporting agencies) and remember that the whole truth is that you have a fiduciary responsibility for the success of the school.
A loss of 114 students means a loss of revenue of over three million dollars. If the numbers are, as we suspect, higher than that, GBC church members better start digging in their pockets. A three million dollar loss is severe enough, but more than that could substantially cripple the school, and it will be up to GBC churches to decide whether to pony up more money to the Cooperative Program in order to foot the bill.