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Interim College President Marcia White: St. Rose Cuts "Necessary And Permanent"

College of St. Rose in Albany, NY
Jackie Orchard
College of St. Rose in Albany, NY

The College of St. Rose in Albany is discontinuing academic programs amid financial struggles. Its Board of Trustees has approved a plan to reduce expenses by nearly $6 million, including the elimination of 16 bachelor's degrees, six master’s degrees and three certificate programs. Current students in those programs will be able to finish their degrees, but no new students will be enrolled in the programs. The college says the move affects 10% of its undergraduate students and 4% of graduate students. The moves eliminate 33 of the college’s 151 full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty positions in December 2021.

Well Ian, this is a proactive plan as part of a multiyear financial plan for the college's long term financial stability. With the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, higher education sector is in a period of real transformation. And it's no secret that financial challenges are pressing on all the colleges and universities throughout the country. The question is, what do you do about it? And we've chosen to be proactive, just as we did earlier in this year when we cut $8 million in administrative expenses. The need was to reduce academic expenses by $6 million. Now the changes are not a commentary on the value of the programs or the value of the skills of the faculty or the quality of the teaching or scholarship here. It is just the right thing to do at a time when the challenges outweigh the other opportunities. We are closing 25 programs of the current 109. That'll be 16 bachelor's degree programs, six masters, and three certificate programs. Now the programs will not be closed until 2021. The decision will impact about 10% of the total undergraduate students and 4% of the graduate students. 33 of the 151 tenured and tenure track faculty will be eliminated. And due to really it's a decline in enrollment or the fact that the program's expense outweighed the revenue generated.

How did you decide which programs would be discontinued?

It was a process, and I think the thing that was important to underscore about the process is it was in unison and collaboration with faculty. We worked with Rep Com which were representatives of the faculty and our administrative team. They analyze data and then they spoke with department chairs. That data made available then to the full faculty and it basically gave revenue. It gave enrollment numbers and recognized the fact that they maintained the integrity of the college and the educational mission, while taking steps needed to ensure the college's financial stability. So it was a very, very difficult challenge. But it was one that was done using analytics and understanding the need to reduce academic expenses by $6 million.

So just to be clear, if I'm an undergrad right now and I'm taking graphic design or another one of these programs that's being eliminated, I'll still be able to finish my degree in that program, in the amount of time that it would take?

Yes. Students will be also provided by with individual plans for degree completion. So if you're a senior, there'll be no impact. If you're a junior, there may be little impact. No incoming students will be enrolled in these programs. But you'll have individual teach outs and we'll have a plan that is designed individually for each student, if they're enrolled in the program and there's still students here.

You mentioned earlier that with enrollment down that led to some of these tough decisions, are you worried that getting rid of these programs will cause more students to transfer?

I'm hoping that they'll understand that part of this is recognizing that we are aligning our economic programs to meet the employment needs of our current and future students. These are changing times and it does not diminish again, as I said, the programs that we have. It will strengthen the whole offering. And we have to recognize also, we have brought in some new programs. We have our nursing degree program, BS in nursing that was brought into alignment with the state and approved this year. It's the first year to bring that program back. It's very, very popular. It's one of the needs that is in the country and in the nation. We have a sales management course which is one of the only ones available in this area as well. Cyber security, masters in social work, new delivery mode for an MBA program which is a flex MBA, and a two and four program which really is what our students and their parents are looking for because you can get both a bachelor's and master's degree in four years. Normally this would take you four years, you get it in two. You save money and you also save time.

How much time does the $6 million in savings that you've identified with these cuts by the college?

Well we're hoping that within the next two years, by 2023, we will have the ability to have a stable financial position and be on a positive foot forward. So we're hoping, and the savings won't really kick in for two years. So it's a proactive plan, as I said, and I think it's very important that we lay out a plan for this. We’ll lay out a plan for future enrollment. And, you know, it's all about being ahead of the game and knowing that everything has changed. You know the financial state of the country has changed, the state of higher education has changed. And we have to meet the times and the needs of our students to really strengthen the ability to provide for them what they have gotten here at St. Rose in the past and will in the future.

If a COVID vaccine comes in and college gets back to normal, you know pre pandemic normal sometime next year, is there a chance that these changes could be undone or are these set in stone?

These are changes that are necessary and will be permanent. We're hoping that with the hope of a vaccine our enrollment will grow because the community and students will have less fear about coming back to school. I will tell you they had a great deal of support. A feeling that St. Rose known as a home away from home. We had a very successful year this year because our number of positive COVID tests were down. We know that in the future we're hoping that this will be the opportunity for them to again come back on campus. These students don't want to be home. They want to have that college experience. They want to have the kind of experience that St. Rose provides for them. And I'm hopeful they'll have more of an opportunity to be a more new normal in the fall than they've had in the past. You know, our hearts really go out to the students. They have been champions here. We have even had members of our athletic department that signed pledges and were dedicated champions to be sure that people were tested but also in addition they respected each other. They wore their masks, they did social distancing. And it is it is part of our legacy and heritage to take care of our neighbor and we take care of each other. It's a legacy that St. Rose has had since the beginning 100 years ago. And that's another point that, you know, when the Sisters of St. Joseph created this college, they knew that like everything things change, times evolve, and they changed their programs. It's what academia has to do. You have to continually reevaluate, understand what the needs are, and make sure that your offerings are meeting the times and the needs of the day.

Is there a risk that the College of Saint Rose could go out of business sometime in the future?

I'm hoping not. That's the reason we're being proactive. You know, we have a plan in place. We have great supportive faculty. We have great support through communication with our students and with our parents. I think one of the important things is we have been in constant communication. I am meeting with the faculty today. We communicate with our parents. We let them know what's happening on our campus. We let them know that we are always there and have the door open for them. But you have to be prepared for the future. We're not bailing a ship out. We're building a stronger ship that can really withstand any type of storm, which is what COVID was.

Does it hurt your efforts to recruit new students and increase enrollment knowing that people are going to be hearing about these major cuts at The College of Saint Rose? A lot of faculty will be going, all these programs. Does that make your efforts harder?

I think it just it means that we have to work harder at making it clear what an exceptional institution The College of Saint Rose is. We have to make it very, very clear that we are this home away from home that the professors that are here, this is their skills, their dedication. They work through their scholarship by teaching, advising the students and they provide a tremendous opportunity of service to this institution. So will it be more difficult? Maybe. But part of that is faith and understanding that we have an incredible reputation. There isn't anyone in this community in the capital region that you will bump into on any given day that can't say that they have a relative or a friend or someone or maybe they graduated from St. Rose. Because we set the standard. We make a difference here because it is the legacy and the heritage of the Sisters of St. Joseph developed.

Is there anything I didn't ask you that you'd like to add?

No, I think the important thing is just sharing that this was and this, quite frankly, is a very new model of really collaborating with faculty. When you're looking at cutting academic expenses that very seldom happens. But our partnership here is allowing us to work together with them to realign the college but also planning for the college in the future. We're very proud of that. We're very hopeful that they will be able to recognize that these are difficult times, which they have. But they've been in lockstep with us and working with us for four months. And we couldn't be more proud of them or the contributions that they have given not just to the St. Rose community but for all the students that they've had as well.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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