Monday, May 8, 2017

A Holy Cross Vice President writes confidential email hinting that the college may close and mistakenly sends it to the entire student body. Oops!

Kelly Jordan, Vice President for Student Affairs at Holy Cross College in Indiana, sent a confidential email to a boarding school administrator last April, hinting that Holy Cross may soon be closing. Kelly told his correspondent that he might "spend the better part of the coming school year closing down the college."


Unfortunately for Vice President Jordan--and for Holy Cross, for that matter--Jordan's email was mistakenly sent out to the entire student body. Oops! The South Bend Tribune, a local newspaper, picked up the story; and now the whole world knows that the future of Holy Cross is in doubt.

Father David Tyson, interim president of Holy Cross, sent out the usual damage-control email message, assuring students that "I look forward to classes beginning in August and working with the faculty and students to create a bright future for the college that fully reflects the Holy Cross mission."

Note that Father Tyson did not contradict VP Jordan's message that Holy Cross might soon be shutting down.

Holy Cross is clearly in trouble. Its former president stepped down earlier this spring along with three of its five vice presidents. The college is quite small--only about 500 students; and the future of many small liberal arts colleges is uncertain.  Less than a year ago, two small Catholic colleges announced they were closing: St. Catharine College in Kentucky and St. Joseph's College in Indiana.

Most small liberal arts colleges depend heavily on tuition revenue, and a lot of them are having trouble attracting students. The National Association for College Admission Counseling recently published a list of colleges that still have room for incoming freshmen or transfer students in their fall 2017 classes. As of early this month, there were more than 500 colleges and universities on that list.  A majority of those schools were private liberal arts colleges with less than 5,000 students.  Seventy-seven of those schools had 1,000 students or less.

A lot of small liberal arts colleges are fighting to survive; and many will fail over the next two or three years. Holy Cross's recent embarrassment raises questions about how college administrators should deal with their own institutions' struggles.

Obviously, small-college administrators should do everything they can to attract new students and revenues. But there comes a time when college leaders need to ask themselves if they have a moral obligation to shut down rather than attract more new students into an institution that is on the road to closure.

If so, when should students and staff be told? I can't answer that question, but for Holy Cross the question is moot thanks to the fact that a confidential email message went public.

Photo credit: South Bend Tribune


References

College Openings Update: Options for Qualified Students. National Association for College Admission Counseling (n.d.).

Margaret Fosmoe. Holy Cross VP paints bleak future for college in emails mistakenly sent to students.  South Bend Tribune, May 6, 2017.

Scott Jaschik.  College Will Suspend OperationsInside Higher ED, February 7, 2017.

Scott Jaschik. 350 Colleges Still Have Room for New UndergradsInside Higher ED, May 4, 2017.

Emily Tate. College VP Sends Email on Possible ClosureInside Higher Ed, May 8, 2017.

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