Chronicle notes caution for private schools
Posted Nov. 7, 2008

The unpredictable, crashing economy is taking its toll on small, private tuition-driven universities, such as La Verne. In a time where money tends to monopolize many conversations, the future of such schools is a growing concern.

With many industries facing financial ruin, some may wonder about the state of ULV due to its heavy competition with like schools in Southern California.

An article titled “As Credit Crisis Chills Campuses, Worries Mount” in the Oct. 10 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education made several distinctions between the types of schools that would prevail, and ones that might fail in the future.

Factors cited for the demise of some schools include the recent stock market plunges, schools suffering from state support, tightening credit and losses on endowment earnings.

To compensate, public schools are expected to increase tuition, and private schools might dip into endowments to supply more attractive student aid.

The speculation is that “the national economic crisis will not affect higher education evenly. There will be winners and losers,” the Chronicle said.

Winner schools include colleges with big endowments and recognized names, community colleges or affordable schools, schools with distance-education programs, schools that are focused in their programs instead of trying to be everything to everyone, schools with donors who can make money in the market and in big energy-producing states such as Alaska, Colorado, Texas and Wyoming, who are “benefiting from the high price of coal, oil, and natural gas.”

Compared to the winner states, La Verne offers only a few of these characteristics, such as distance-education programs.

Homa Shabahang, vice president of enrollment management, recognizes that La Verne is not yet a household name – despite being founded in 1891 – even in the region in which the main campus sits.

In an effort to retain better name recognition, Shabahang is adjusting marketing and recruitment efforts. The school must update its website, reach a larger area, contact more high schools and community colleges to attract students looking to enroll, and review its financial aid packaging, all of which are currently being addressed actively, Shabahang said.

Though ULV seems to lack many of the Chronicle winner characteristics, this does not imply it is not doing well.

According to the Chronicle, “losing” schools include schools comprised mostly of middle-class families, high prices, tuition-dependent private colleges, schools behind on maintenance and projects, fund raising heavily dependent on Wall Street, and schools in states slammed by the housing slump, including California.

ULV is widely attended by middle-class families, President Stephen Morgan said.

However, Morgan said that though many view ULV as a high-priced institution, it is actually modest in comparison to competing schools in Southern California.

“We are below the mid-level of schools we are compared to,” Avedis Kechichian, associate vice president and treasurer, said.

In fact, the enrollment manager is analyzing the current impact of the economy and pricing tuition accordingly, according to Kechichian, thus making ULV a more fair institution in regards to price tag.

Maintenance is not an area of concern Kechichian said, but in light of the recent budget shortfall, the school is slowing down and reviewing the funding on capital projects. “There is always deferred maintenance,” Morgan said.

Through the fickleness of Wall Street this fall, it would be easy to hold a cynical view toward all finances.

According to Kechichian, individual donors who give a part of their independent income are not affected by the Wall Street crush, whereas this may impact corporate donations.

“La Verne is only somewhat dependent on Wall Street for the funding generated,” Morgan said.

The Chronicle agreed with Charles Bentley, director of public relations, who said, “Donors understand the importance that education plays and will continue to support it.”

“Consultants say some wealthy donors may actually increase their gifts. And fund raisers expect that loyal donors will continue to give, but that it may take longer for them to fulfill their pledges,” the Chronicle said.

Furthermore, La Verne is set apart from other failing schools in that it does not heavily rely on donor money for financial aid. “To an extent, we are not highly endowed,” Morgan said. “Instead, we rely on annual and general funds.”

Though ULV does reflect some of the troubling factors that will increase competitiveness among less expensive two and four-year universities, administrators are confident that the school will prevail.

According to Shabahang, if the economy continues to drive competition, the school will respond by awarding more aid to students.

“We are assessing the possibility of changing our packaging policy so that a larger portion of students’ need may be covered by the financial aid package,” Shabahang said.

Administrators said that students and supporters of the school need not fear; La Verne will adjust.

Lesley Michaels can be reached at lesley.michaels@laverne.edu.

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