Anderson University cuts staff, majors as enrollment drops

After suffering a 7-percent dip in enrollment, Anderson University will cut 4 percent of its workforce and eliminate its theater, philosophy and French majors, according to the Herald Bulletin.

In a prepared statement released Friday, the Christian liberal arts university said “converging external economic factors” have put pressure on the school’s finances. Those include greater price sensitivity among families and students, reduced student-aid funding from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, and depressed investment returns that have limited income from the university’s endowment.

In response, Anderson officials are trying to cut $3 million from the school’s $65 million annual budget. Toward that goal, the school plans to lay off 16 faculty and staff members by July 1 out of its total workforce of 400. In addition to no longer offering theater, philosophy and French as majors, the school will combine art and communications into a single major called visual and communications arts.

According to the Herald Bulletin, those actions will save the school $1.7 million. The school has already identified further cuts in other departments, and has been discussing those changes with the affected faculty and staff members, according to the statement. University officials are also looking at administrative savings, a curriculum revamp and changes in pricing.

“There has been a marked change in the fundamental nature of higher education,” said Anderson President James Edwards. “As we continue to monitor and assess this situation, we realize that we must respond differently to the expectations of families as well as to the nature of our operational model. Many institutions across academia will need to make these adjustments and those that don’t will continue to struggle.”

Anderson enrolled the equivalent of 1,628 students this year, down from 1,753 the year before, according to the Herald Bulletin. Its listed price for tuition and fees is $26,200, although the actual price to most students after discounts is about half that amount. Room and board costs another $9,100.

When considered collectively, private liberal arts colleges like Anderson constitute the second-largest university system in Indiana. Thirty-one independent schools enroll more than 77,000 full-time equivalent students, which trails only the Indiana University system.

But all of those liberal arts schools are being forced to rethink their high-touch, high-cost model of education.

In addition to students’ pinched finances, the ability of donors to keep juicing the endowments and scholarship funds of private colleges remains depressed due to market jitters. And now improvements in online technology are threatening to pull students away from the traditional college experience.

In response, some colleges are cutting prices, some are embracing online technology, and some are launching professional programs to help subsidize their core undergraduate mission.

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