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Hampshire College receives $5 million anonymous donation as it continues to rebuild its finances

Josh Landes

Amherst, Massachusetts liberal arts college Hampshire College got a major boost to its ongoing $60 million fundraising campaign this week in the form of an anonymous $5 million gift.

The donation comes at a critical time for the college.

In 2019, Hampshire seemed like it was on the precipice of dissolution. Daunting financial challenges led to controversial plans to save the young, experimental college, which in turn triggered protest, resignations, and major transitions in Hampshire’s administration. As it continues to rebuild from a chaotic period, the donation comes as the college continues a five-year fundraising campaign launched back in 2019.

“It’s an endorsement of our mission and the vision and the work we're doing to transform ourselves in a way continue to set the example for higher education. So it's part of the $60 million campaign that is both to help return Hampshire to its sense of financial health and thriving, but also to say, we are really making great strides in reimagining undergraduate education,” said President Ed Wingenbach. “This donor, who is an anonymous donor who was not previously affiliated with the college, was so impressed with the vision and the work that we're doing that they wanted to support that.”

The gift pushes the campaign over the halfway mark. It’s now brought in over $33 million.

Wingenbach says that another key benchmark for the college is enrollment.

“By, you know, 2024, 2025, we should be back over 1,000 students, which is where Hampshire needs to be as a sustainable institution. The way that we achieve that, of course, is by continuing to do exciting, innovative work in the way that we invite students to learn, so that they can do things that Hampshire that they can't do at any other college in the country,” he told WAMC.

Hampshire is pursuing that commitment by restructuring its undergraduate curriculum around what Wingenbach describes as the urgent challenges of the 21st century.

“The four challenges that our curriculum is built around right now are disrupting and dismantling white supremacy, how to understand truth in a post-truth era, how do we act on our responsibilities in the face of a changing climate, and how might creative work address trauma, collective and individual trauma," said Wingenbach. "And these are all sort of central questions for the 21st century. And our faculty are designing their courses around those questions, bringing their various disciplinary and scholarly and creative expertise to those questions, to provide an environment where students can, from the day they enter college, begin engaging with the kinds of problems and challenges and questions that students go to college to eventually be able to work on and improve.”

Hampshire’s financial struggles have taken a toll on its faculty and staff with rounds of layoffs and pay cuts.

“As we re-establish our enrollments and rebuild our financial cushions, we are able to sort of bring back faculty members a little bit at a time," Wingenbach told WAMC. "We've been very lucky that our partnerships in the Five Colleges have allowed many of our faculty to take on visiting positions and other kinds of roles in the region where they can continue to work with our students and be available to them to advise while teaching at some of the other colleges.”

Wingenbach is doubling down on Hampshire’s commitment to transform higher education as the means to attract both more donors like this week’s anonymous $5 million giver and more enrollees.

“As we continue to show how you can do undergraduate education differently, how you can invite students to right away start working on the issues that they care most about and bringing to bear on that all of the different perspectives and expertise and approaches to arts and humanities and science that reflect the way the world operates and the way that students will be asked to engage with the world when they leave college, that's going to drive both our enrollments, but also, it's going to create this huge benefit for the rest of higher education as people see what we're doing and start to adopt the elements of it that they can bring to their campuses,” said Wingenbach.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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