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From the Print

State of the College address— Manley eyes Antioch challenges

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

At last Saturday’s State of the College address to college alumni, Antioch College President Tom Manley closed with the above quote, from South African human rights activist Nelson Mandela.

 More than any other theme, Manley’s talk emphasized that there is nothing impossible about creating a successful and financially sustainable Antioch College

“We can do this,” he said to alumni. “If we keep at it, with your help, we will do this.”

In a talk heavy on facts and specifics, Manley also emphasized what he views as the singular role of Antioch College during a time of struggle in the world of colleges and universities.

“We have serious challenges now in higher education,” he said. “The call now is for a new kind of college and a new way of looking at power. We think students coming here will be architects of that new education and that new kind of power.”

The State of the College address, a traditional part of the annual alumni reunion, followed about six months of financial “rightsizing” for the college, during which budget cuts prompted temporary pay cuts for many faculty and the loss of at least one staff position. 

Along with the financial reorganization, other areas of focus during Manley’s second year as college president included beefing up the admissions department, revising the college calendar and curriculum, and ongoing fundraising, he said.

But the area of focus that has been most successfully addressed is that of developing the college’s “value proposition,” he told alumni. 

“I’m pleased to say, I think we hit this one out of the park,” Manley said.

That new value proposition is an emphasis on Antioch College students’ agency and autonomy in an increasingly complex world, Manley said. Called “Own Your Education,” the value proposition is reflected in a new curriculum that requires each student to design her or his own course of study — the college’s 11 previous traditional majors have been eliminated.

“There is no school that offers greater agency and accountability for their education and in shared governance than Antioch College,” he said.

Co-operative work experience, or co-op, is still at the center of the Antioch College experience, Manley emphasized.

Admissions uptick

Town/gown gain

The Antioch College Village pocket neighborhood, scheduled for development on the college campus. The college Wellness Center, financially supported by many villagers. A Round Table of college/community leaders who meet regularly. A proposed business incubator on campus, funded by local investment.

These were some examples of current and proposed collaborative efforts between Yellow Springs and Antioch College, as described during Building a Resilient College and Village, an alumni reunion event on Saturday, July 14, at McGregor 113.

“The kinds of collaboration we’re talking about are not just partnerships that are win-win, but these are triple-wins, for the college, the partnering organization and the community,” Antioch College President Tom Manley said. 

At the event, college representatives and community leaders described current and past collaborative projects. Taking part were Village Council President Brian Housh, Community Solutions Director Susan Jennings, YS Community Foundation Director Jeannamarie Cox, and college representatives Manley, Kevin McGruder, Marcell Vanarsdale and Malte von Matthiessen.

It’s a good time to promote new partnering efforts between college and community, Housh said.

“The time is now,” Housh said. “You have a Council that’s geared up for collaborative projects.”

Recalling successes of the past year, Manley highlighted changes in the college’s admissions staff, giving particular kudos to the new admissions director, Gariot Louima.

“Gariot has brought confidence to an area we had struggled in,” Manley said.

Coming to the role in late 2017, Louima most recently spent four years as enrollment director at Goddard College in Vermont. He had earlier served Antioch as its first communications director after its 2009 re-opening. 

The college has suffered from a revolving door of admissions directors since re-opening, starting with the departure of Cesar Mesquita, who left the job after about a year, followed by Micah Canal, whose tenure was also short lived. Interim director Harold Wingood was in the job less than two years, and in fall 2016 the college hired Bill Carter, who brought 25 years experience in higher education admissions work. However, Carter suffered a heart attack the following spring, affecting enrollment in last year’s entering class. That class numbered about 28, rather than a hoped-for 60.

The numbers are somewhat higher this year, Manley said. The college received 279 applications for the class entering this fall, out of which 124 students were admitted. At this time, 38 deposits have been received, and Louima said he expects that 40 to 50 entering freshmen will show up in the fall. 

In terms of student demographics, the entering class is 32 percent people of color, 75 percent women, and 16 percent from the LGBTQ community, Manley said.

Among the strategies Louima has used to turn enrollment around is adopting best practice systems for recruitment, bringing in new leadership for financial aid and overhauling all college department websites, according to Manley.

“Gariot has had a significant impact in turning our numbers around this fall,” Manley said.

Total Antioch College student enrollment is expected to be about 105 in the coming year, according to figures presented by Manley. That number is down from 133 students during the most recent year, and the re-opened college’s highest enrollment of 266 in 2016.

Need student revenue

That drop in enrollment is closely linked to the college’s ongoing financial problems. The recent financial “rightsizing” effort followed a similar effort a year ago, when the college downsized its faculty and staff. 

During these past two years, college leaders have cut the school’s budget from about $22 million to about $15 million, Manley told alumni.

However, the challenge continues, according to a financial consultant brought in to the school this year, according to Manley.

“The consultant said, you don’t have an expense problem, you have a revenue problem,” Manley said.

While part of the problem is the low enrollment, another component is the small percentage of college tuition actually paid by Antioch College students, Manley said. While on average at most private colleges students pay about $15,000 out of tuition costs, at Antioch the student contribution is exceptionally low, with an average of about $1,500 paid per student toward its $35,000 tuition.

The low level of student-derived revenue began when the college offered free tuition for its first four classes following the college’s re-opening, a strategy used by past leaders to entice students to attend a not-yet accredited school.

“Free is a really good deal,” Manley said.

And the strategy worked in attracting students, with class size climbing yearly after an initial class of 35 students. However, college leaders soon realized they were far too dependent on alumni donations in maintaining the college, and that that level of philanthropy is not sustainable.

In those first years after re-opening, the college focused its energy on gaining accreditation, an academic milestone that college leaders expected would lead to further enrollment increases, Manley said. While that milestone was achieved in 2016, the expected rewards of accreditation did not materialize.

“We expected when we got accredited, the skies would open with money and students,” he said. “That didn’t happen.”

Most significantly, the numbers of students began to drop in 2015, as the college began pulling back on its full-tuition offers, called Horace Mann scholarships, and offering only half tuition. More recently, Manley said, many students are being asked to pay more.

“Applications went off the table,” he said, when the college stopped offering the free tuition in 2015.

While the level of alumni support for Antioch is considered impressive compared to the level of alumni support for other colleges, it’s become increasingly burdensome to alumni donors, Manley said.

So a significant part of building a sustainable college is finding ways to reap more revenue from student tuition, Manley told alumni. And that increase is happening, he said, as the college brings discounts to students down while at the same time working to attract new students.

Progress is being made, he said. 

“We’re looking at student-derived income as a significant revenue source for the college,” Manley said. 

The numbers show progress in the college’s ability to attract students while also asking more from them financially, he said.

While the college saw $951,282 in student-derived revenue in 2015, that amount increased to $1.4 million in 2016 and $1.7 million in 2017 before dropping to $1.07 million in 2018. In 2019, the college projects that it will see about $1.4 million in student-derived revenue, comparable to that of 2016 even though the enrollment is smaller.

“Though the numbers of students are decreasing, the net revenue is increasing,” he said. “Even though enrollment is smaller, we have a lot of reason for optimism.”

Other challenges

Along with the challenge of increasing Antioch’s student-derived revenue, other significant challenges include student and faculty retention, Manley said. 

While student retention was not a significant problem in the first two years after re-opening, it became so later, and has remained a campus issue, he said.

Faculty retention and turnover is also a significant challenge — this year, about a third of faculty left the college, according to the June 2018 issue of  The Antiochian. The causes include the significant workload at a new college, which includes not only working on research and teaching classes, but also building new systems and policies, Manley said.

And to add to faculty discontent, college-wide financial woes have contributed to a lack of development opportunities and financial gain for faculty, according to Manley.

“No one has had a raise in three or four years,” he said, and this spring during the recent belt-tightening, many faculty had their pay cut temporarily, although those cuts ended in June.

Alumni questions

While in past years alumni have often asked spirited questions to the college president following the State of the College address, this year’s questions were relatively subdued.

In response to a concern that some campus buildings, such as the Student Union, look in such poor condition that prospective parents of students might be put off, Manley said that building demolition is expensive and not high on the college’s list of priorities. And while a recommendation has been made to demolish both the Student Union and Spalt Hall, other consultants have recommended keeping Spalt, perhaps to be used for a community purpose if not a college purpose, Manley said.

The college has already renovated Weston Hall as the new Student Union, and renovation of West Hall is planned when an additional dorm is needed. Also, the renovation of Main Building remains a priority, Manley said.

“We plan to open Kelly Hall first,” he said, to applause from alumni.

In response to a question regarding the college’s hoped-for future student body size, Manley said that college leaders envision a future college of 300 to 400 students, beginning with significantly more students in 2019. 

When one alum asked Manley how he spends his time. Manley spoke of his extensive travel, along with his love of reading and writing when he’s home.

And much of his time, and that of his wife, Susanne Hashim, the college’s vice president for advancement, is taken up thinking and talking about Antioch College.

“How do we make the most transformative educational experience both possible and affordable?” Manley asked. “That’s what we spend a good part of our time thinking about.”

College alum and villager Bob Baldwin asked alumni to reflect on what made their own Antioch experience successful, especially the impact of college standards in student conduct, faculty performance and academic excellence.

“Do not discount the impact of some of these things that worked so well, and made Antioch College a magical place for me,” Baldwin said.

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