HAMPDEN-SYDNEY COLLEGE (1775-2015)

SWEET BRIER COLLEGE (1901-2014.5)

On a positive note, I met Hampden-Sydney College in the 13th grade, totally by blind dumb luck, immediately encountering serious liberal arts challenges.

John McCandell, Vice Chancellor of Sewanee, the University of the South, was recently quoted: “The sense that there is a crisis among small liberal arts colleges for financial reasons doesn’t seem borne out by the evidence.”  Continuing:  “All of us are going to have to continue to take a good close look at how we allocate precious financial aid dollars, lest we see serious socio-economic effects.” It’s a good beginning.

As a red-white-blue-garnet-gray Hampden-Sydney product, I deeply feel  – for the health of our culture, and nation – smaller liberal arts colleges must not only thrive, but discover ways to accommodate academically deserving students (note the word, deserving), who need financial assistance.

While the small liberal arts model seems “the most expensive model there is,” it can and does function as the jewel of higher education. It simply preserves/protects a solid, refined learning experience.

For me, “Sydney” has been analogous to experiencing a life-long best friend. That’s special…but having this best friend almost your entire life is a rare blessing – something deeply held. And if that friend’s industry or business model begins to get wobbly, attention must be paid. Internal examination, if required, needs to begin yesterday.

Thankfully, it’s unnecessary for me to remind the quintessential professional Anita H. Garland, Dean of Admissions at Hampden-Sydney College that many applicants, who are attracted to the small, nurturing, residential liberal arts environment, are now showing up from different socio-economic backgrounds. Following defining demographic changes in student populations, it’s neither surprising, nor shocking, this day has arrived. The student world is a changin.

Like so many small, much younger, liberal arts colleges (a few single sex), our 1775 jewel is confronted with built-in costs:  a predictable increase of operations budget annually;  utilities increase;  employees expect cost-of-living increases;  health insurance increases;  constant renovations and repairs to aging buildings….all adding pressures to raise exorbitant tuitions, recruit more students, particularly if your endowment isn’t where it needs to be. Seriously, it’s enough to give one the dismals.

Choosing anonymity, a talented H-SC alumnus (in the higher education field), spoke about the “H-SC man” – as a liberally educated gentleman, well grounded, with his almost spiritual description: “one of servant leadership.”

As lines between gender-roles thin further, with educated gentlemanliness swamped into perceived anachronism, are those brands proceeding to the cultural dumpster?   Answer: no – despite the crushing heavy-handedness of a growing coarseness in American culture. We simply owe it to western traditions.

Should veteran alumni be part of redefining the enticement of the school? Should the college create a renewed bent on Christian faith – particularly in the current climate? Promoting the campus location as a safety alternative to urban campus up evil would appeal. Sure, it’s possible an H-SC curriculum could benefit from tweaking. Many even consider including a newly cultivated “Hampden-Sydney man”….and ‘woman’.

Small college creativity abounds:  Wilson College – slowly went co-ed, and cut the tuition 17%, launching the nation’s first debt buy-back program;  Sewanee adopted a tuition cut of 10%, locking the price in for the entire 4 years;  Mary Baldwin College (soon to be University) buffets the core residential liberal arts program by launching health science programs as a separate college, and creating a graduate education program of its own. Baldwin has been creative for years;  Hampden-Sydney could consider a non-residential, but authentic off-campus College location on the outskirts of Roanoke, or Richmond – building a first two year program – feeding into a completed campus experience…possibly creating classes in cyber security, health management, even political communication.

Finally, for me, it looks like recruiting more and more students who need heavy financial aid is not a good idea. Realizing our current administration desires this, we’d better be “damn sure”, as Dr. Ned Crawley often roared. Betting most institutions have a clear “tipping point” for its discount rate, one wonders what it is for Hampden-Sydney.

The economy and culture of America are testing all small private colleges, small universities. Future environments require heavily engaged, talented administrators, in this exacting academic age. Their success, survival, or demise, will result with the pathologies created inside them.

Book it, Danno.

Raymond B. Wallace, Jr. acknowledges UNIVERSITY BUSINESS for some of the material contained herein. Wallace’s new book ESSEX MEMORIES & BEYOND was recently nominated in the non-fiction category for the 18th annual Library of Virginia Literary Award, 2015.

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