Colleges try to help students through tough times
Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor
January 19, 2009

Colleges try to help students through tough times

Colleges try to help students through tough times
Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor
January 19, 2009

Wingate University president Jerry McGee was so concerned about how students would make it through the economic downturn that he recorded a video for students that was posted Dec. 9 on YouTube. In early January the video had been viewed more than 1,200 times.

McGee said that while the school was experiencing success he realized that the economy is creating difficulties for students. He said the school wants to be sure that every student has the financial aid he or she needs to be successful. The school will help students “look under every rock” for potential aid, he said.

All five North Carolina Baptist colleges are addressing economic events to help their students return, and to remind high schoolers that a college education is still vital preparation for an uncertain future.

On campus jobs

Wingate has created additional employment opportunities on campus for students who want to work, McGee said.

“We want you to know we’re sensitive to your issues and problems,” he said. “There are plenty of people here who are available to help with those issues.”

Bob McLendon, vice president for admissions at Mars Hill College said the financial aid office at Mars Hill is setting up one-on-one counseling for students. School officials want to make sure students understand all potential sources for aid.

“We want to help,” he said. “We’re in this together.”

McLendon said federal loans are available, but alternative loans that look at a student’s or a family’s credit are tightening up.

“That worries us,” he said.

Stephanie Harrell, director of financial planning at Chowan, said the financial aid office at the school shares options and information with students and parents on how to pay for college. The office’s web site includes information about scholarships, work-study and loan opportunities with links to search for additional scholarships or grants.

“We have even set up a FaceBook page, to try to reach students more on their level,” she said.

John Roberson, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at Campbell University, said student financial aid packages for the current academic year at Campbell were complete in August.

“The reality of the current situation on students applying for loans and other sources of financial aid will not be fully understood until the second or third quarter of this year,” he said.

Roberson said students feeling the crunch should remember that the greatest investment one can make in oneself is education.

“Financial aid packages will no doubt contain larger loans than in previous years,” he said. “However, with a college degree one’s earning potential is greater and the prospect of being more competitive in the marketplace is enhanced. Students should not fear accepting loans.”

The number of students returning this semester could impact how hard the economic crisis hits the schools. Final enrollment for the spring won’t be known until mid-January.

McLendon said Mars Hill is bracing for a potential enrollment decline. “We’re trying to stay a half a step ahead of the curve because of this economic crisis,” he said. “We’re not taking anything for granted. We have to skillfully prepare for this.”

Mars Hill president Dan Lunsford and other top leaders at the school have talked about how best to handle the issue.

“There’s not anything that’s not being discussed,” McLendon said.

Campbell leaders have placed restrictions on equipment and supply purchases, travel, and vacant staff positions.

The measures were put into place in mid-December, Roberson said.

Chuck Taylor, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Wingate, said the school’s budget has not been impacted dramatically, the school’s leaders are being proactive about cost-saving measures. Over the winter break, the school did not turn on the heat in the academic buildings, resulting in significant savings on utilities.

“Thus far, our cost savings efforts have not directly impacted our students,” Taylor said. “We won’t do anything that will take away from the Wingate student experience.”

Endowments at the colleges took significant hits when the economy went sour recently, but all five schools are taking steps to be sure they make it through the downturn.

“Like virtually everyone else, endowment return has been significantly affected negatively,” said Frank Bonner, president of Gardner-Webb University (GWU). “From what we are hearing and reading, it is no worse than the experience of other schools and may not be as bad as some.”

McLendon said the Mars Hill endowment was $50 million before the economic downturn. Losses weren’t as much as they could have been because of a “pretty conservative investment strategy,” by the college’s foundation made up of trustees, he said.

“This crisis hasn’t impacted us as much,” McLendon said. “We’ve had a 20 percent drop, which is significant, but we didn’t get run over because of our investment strategy.”

John Tayloe, vice president of development for Chowan University, said that despite what’s happening in the stock market, the school is having its “best days.”

“Chowan has experienced impact from this downturn, but to a much lesser extent than the market as a whole,” he said. “Decisions made by the administration and the board of trustees, in concert with the advice from portfolio managers, have lessened the decline of the Chowan Endowment.”

Roberson said because of Campbell’s conservative investment policy, the loss in value of the university’s portfolio has fared much better than institutions whose investment policy was more speculative.”

Taylor said that in June Wingate’s endowment stood at around $30 million. Since then, it has lost about 25 percent of its value, he said.

“We have a conservative endowment spending policy which will reduce the impact in the short term,” he said. “Of course, if the downturn in financial markets continues for some time in the future, our ability to assist students with scholarship aid will be tested.”

Fundraising at the schools continues to be strong, though some are seeing decreases in larger gifts.

McLendon said colleges must face the reality of the current situation like any other corporation or business. The schools should look at their operating models and consider how to lower costs and improve their product.

The schools need to learn how to do more with less and do it more efficiently, McLendon said. Private schools have an advantage over public institutions in this area, he said.

“We can change at a little faster pace,” he said. “We don’t have to go through the legislature. We make our own decisions.”

Bonner said students should not abandon important educational goals and plans.

“If anything, the economic situation has magnified the importance of a good education and a degree from an outstanding university,” he said. “If students will work with us, persevere and do their part we will all get through this.”

Financial health package

Across three issues of the Biblical Recorder and numerous postings online, the BR staff compiled stories dealing with financial health, budgeting, teaching children about money, stewardship issues, etc. For a complete list, click here.