Positives for Higher Education and for Belhaven

A few days ago I announced to our campus that we would not have annual salary increases in January. We are the only college or university in Mississippi that has given a raise every single year during the past dozen years. So, few decisions have weighed as heavily on me and our board as this decision, but we must be cautious stewards in this most unusual economic time.

There is more than enough economic doom and gloom on the horizon to scare us all, and the finance news coming out of higher education in the past month is especially chilling: a leading seminary cut two-dozen positions; a wealthy private school is eliminating 40 jobs; Clemson is requiring all employees to take an unpaid leave for five days; and the value of the Stanford endowment went down by $1 Billion this year.

At the same time, there are some positives for higher education, and more specifically for Belhaven:

Families want the best for their children and are likely to scrimp on education only as a last resort, because this is not an expenditure that can be delayed.

National reports are showing a strong surge in graduate programs, especially in the business arena.

The new federal grants for veterans and their spouses create a significantly larger pool of potential students—and we already have a good scholarship in place for them.

Our pre-registration for spring is currently ahead of last year, as well as our applications for the coming fall semester.

The “buzz” in higher education news is that high tuition increases will be announced for next fall – which helps Belhaven, since we are lower priced than most private colleges.

Our enrollment growth on the branch campuses is doing especially well—I’m very encouraged about how those programs are expanding.

In the past, schools like Belhaven without an endowment were squeezed, but during today’s economic uncertainty, it is the schools with big endowment funds that are in big trouble. Although we are in a “safer” position than most schools, we are being careful stewards of every dollar and student God entrusts to us.

I recently talked with the faculty about these economic realities, and a few hours after that meeting I received the following e-mail from our head librarian, Susan Springer:

One of my library staff members, Nan Moak, has resigned. She is having a baby in December and has chosen to stay home with her child. Her last day is November 25th. Due to the current economic circumstances, I had a staff meeting and explained to them that I will not be asking for or hiring a new person for the Spring semester.  All of the staff agreed that we can work extra shifts at the desk, etc. to help Belhaven face the unknown economic future that all colleges must address in the near future.

That note brought me to tears in thankfulness for the joy of working alongside people
who understand God’s great calling for us at Belhaven and take the initiative on their own
to find solutions.

While other campuses are busy staking out their internal “turf” battles to deal with the same uncertain economic times we are facing, I know Belhaven will pull together and come out on the other side of this economy stronger than ever, because our only desire is to honor Christ.

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