What are your thoughts on some of the greatest challenges since you’ve come back and stepped into this role?
Some of the biggest challenges relate to changing perceptions. We’ve got to change the perception of the school in two ways:
First, we have the solutions right here for many of our challenges. In my first days as president, most of the “problems” brought to me turned out to be great opportunities. An example was excess housing capacity. It gave us an opportunity to provide better housing options for our students, private rooms for those who want them – and many students want them. It was brought to me as a negative but for our students it presents a great positive option. We offered it and prospective students got very excited about it. It was a solution that helped us turn our enrollment trend around in one semester.
There are many more opportunities. We need to look for them and grasp them. We are going to have to tackle a lot challenges, but we’ve also got the tools to really make a difference and succeed.
Second, we’re not a junior college any more. That’s a big shift for many alumni and friends. We are offering an education that has ramifications – we’re not just preparing someone to go to school somewhere else. I think that is our biggest challenge.
Obviously, another big challenge is securing needed gifts. We don’t know what this economy is going to do. We do know that about 30% of the cost for one student to attend York must come from someone besides the student and their family. Not all of this is gift income—maybe it comes from endowment earnings or royalties. But the bottom line is that students only pay for 70% of their education. If we have to start increasing that, then we have other challenges. Going to a higher price point always “selects” some students out of the pool. We don’t want to do that. Securing gifts to underwrite what happens here is essential.
Let me give you a fourth challenge: we need to reconnect with churches. We need to be looked upon, not as the leader, but as a resource for churches in the north central states. They need to look at us as being the resource to help them grow and become stronger.
Many alumni have a soft spot in their heart for the college, but they also have concerns about the school’s stability. It’s a special place for many of us, but why should we believe that things are going to get better?
Stability is my number one goal with faculty, and the campus as a whole. Stability won’t happen by us publicizing it. But people do need to see signs of it. They needed to see a reversal in enrollment declines and believe that we could grow again. They need to see a budget year that ends in the black which we were blessed to do in the last school year. When people see a budget in the black a couple of years in a row and moving off the list of fiscally distressed colleges, all those things show stability.
People are also very concerned because of the news of Cascade, news that’s coming out about Magnolia Bible College. And of course some people are using that and saying York is next. But we won’t just survive; we will prosper if we adhere to who we are and if we keep doing a great job with student retention. That kind of stability will speak for itself and our students are going to go out and sell this place for us.
Recently in a church newspaper, The Christian Chronicle, there was a story about York being on a list of financially distressed colleges. What’s that about?
The list is based on a financial ratio given for all colleges and universities. The list, which included York College, Rochester College and Ohio Valley University, was first reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education and later in The Christian Chronicle.
The ratio is assessed by the government and is a comparison of a college’s financial ratio between student revenue and debt. The ratio can range from 0 to 3 and when a school’s ratio is below 1.5, a threshold is crossed and the government is concerned about that level of debt to revenue. The ratio is a trailing indicator of where institutions have been.
This year’s report was based on the 2008 audit and we were at a 1.35—just below that 1.5 cut-off. During that year, our enrollment was at 405 students while we tried to manage significant debt for recently built student apartments. The ratio between lower student numbers and a higher debt service hurt us. If enrollment goes down at the same time as debt load has increased for a recent building project it is going to catch you – and it did. People need to understand we were on that list in reflection of the 2008 audit and we will appear on that list again for our 2009 audit because we had fewer students in the fall of 2008.
However, with an increase of more than 8% this year, we are beginning to turn that ratio around. Our student generated revenue this year is the highest in the history of York College. That is a huge plateau for us to reach and it will make a huge difference for us.
And that happened without an increase in tuition for two years in a row.