Sunday, January 21, 2018

Austerity and Optimism

How do you keep spirits up while cutting budgets?

I’d love to see a conference on that, but the people most affected by it couldn’t attend, because their travel budgets have already been cut.  So I’ll resort to the interwebs instead.

Population decline is a common problem in the Northeast and Midwest.  The Washington Post did a piece a few days ago detailing who’s moving where -- I had to smile at “white people love Colorado” -- that showed that other than New York City and maybe Boston, most of the Northeast is losing population.  It’s tough to maintain enrollments when the population base is shrinking.  Combine flat or declining enrollments with increasing costs for health insurance, among other things, and the math is tough.

Some four-year schools papered over the gap for a while with international students.  But that isn’t terribly viable for us, between a lack of dorms and the political climate around immigration.  

But against a tough economic background, it’s crucial not to eviscerate a sense of possibility on campus.  The task at hand, culturally, is a difficult mix of acknowledging constraints and envisioning a sustainable future worth getting excited about.  

That’s easy when you have an economic tailwind.  “In which direction should we expand?” is a basically happy question.  When the wind is against you, it’s tougher.

That said, plenty of colleges and other institutions have faced this over the years, and I’m guessing that some of them handled it better than others.  So I’ll throw this open to my wise and worldly readers to see if they’ve seen austerity handled particularly well.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen a college balance austerity and optimism well?  If so, what made it work?