Judson College officials launched an aggressive effort to save the school March 3.
Following a discussion of the college’s proposed budget during a special-called board of trustees meeting, Judson President W. Mark Tew proposed a 30-day commitment campaign to raise $5 million in unrestricted funds by April 2. The motion to proceed with the campaign passed unanimously by the 24 board members – eight in person and 16 joining via Zoom.
“Today, the board demonstrated their commitment to sustaining a future for Judson,” said Joan Newman, chair of the trustees and Class of ’73 alumna. “The financial goal is lofty, but the future of Judson College is worthy,” Newman said.
Tew told students, faculty and staff immediately following the meeting, “The board was unanimous in seeking to identify donors to support the college in the coming academic year. While this is a monumental challenge, I would like to remind all of you that we serve a great God.
“Prudent financial responsibility dictates that we have firm commitments from our donors before we can proceed into the next academic year. Accordingly, the trustees will meet on April 2 to review the college’s progress and make a determination about its future.”
Tew has been working to obtain a clear picture of the college’s financial situation and opportunity to avoid a crisis since coming to the role in March 2019, but it wasn’t until early Dec. 2020 that he had to deliver an urgent appeal for help.
On Dec. 15, Tew explained that in order to open in Jan. 2021, Judson would need $500,000 in unrestricted cash donations and another $1 million in unrestricted commitments of gifts to complete the spring semester.
Just 13 days after the announcement and five days before the Dec. 31 deadline, the Judson community, alumnae and friends mobilized quickly to provide the needed funds.
The school had secured $500,000 in cash donations and was halfway to the commitment goal of an additional $1 million. The board convened Dec. 31, 2020, and approved moving forward with the spring 2021 semester.
Of the total $1.5 million given or pledged, almost half was provided by alumnae.
Also approved by the board in December was the engagement of the services of Fuller Higher Ed Solutions to research the college’s changing markets and to explore potential avenues. The group conducted a review of the college’s financial situation and met with focus groups of students, faculty, staff, alumnae and board members during the first few weeks of 2021.
Fuller’s findings, outlined in a report posted on the school’s website, indicated two choices for Judson – to close “with dignity” or to “invest in turnaround.” The board received the report Feb. 19 and then held meetings Feb. 22, Feb. 26 and March 3 to deliberate over the findings.
With the decision to see what is possible in the next 30 days, a review of the 2021-22 budget was put on hold by the board. The school’s fiscal year ends May 31.
Judson’s financial journey
In recent years, Judson has operated on a roughly $9 million annual budget with 76 employees. Most expenses go to academics followed closely by care of the campus of the 183-year-old institution.
Current enrollment stands at 145 students (designated as traditional full- or part-time), down from 253 in 2019 and 161 in 2020. School officials anticipated continued decline going into 2021 because of restrictions on recruiting activities with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as concern over the future of the school.
While Judson does have a board-operated endowment of $9.8 million, and another more than $6 million in perpetual trusts held by others, including The Baptist Foundation of Alabama, almost all of these funds are donor-restricted for scholarships. Judson does use earnings from the endowments as part of its annual income, along with students’ tuition and fees, about $1 million provided from gifts through the Cooperative Program, and $500,000-$800,000 from donations.
Judson also received more than $2.4 million through the pandemic-related federal and state relief.
Without those funds, the school would have had to close in the fall of 2020, Tew said.
According to the Fuller report, tuition brings in a little more than $14,000 per student per year, but the cost to the college per student per year is roughly $40,000 with current enrollment. That means the school has to make up a difference of more than $25,000 per student per year.
These numbers don’t include how room and board factors in, which brings in $10,000 per student per year. Currently, 127 students live on campus.
Judson also is out of options regarding credit because it already owes more than $15 million in unpaid debt.
Expenses were trimmed going into the spring semester by eliminating the associate’s in nursing program, restructuring the summer term, reducing personnel and holding off on campus repairs/upgrades, but the $8.5 million budget remains out of balance.
According to Fuller’s estimates, Judson would need a windfall of $40 million to truly turn things around, even if that amount came in at $8 million a year for the next five years. The breakdown of the money needed, as outlined by Fuller, would be:
- $5 million to close the operating deficit
- $2 million to revive the buildings and infrastructure
- $1 million for seed money for revamping and rebranding the school
‘All-in’ support needed
“While the alumnae base and other supporters have responded generously to the financial challenges with their giving, and the focus group feedback reflected a deep level of ‘all in’ support, the path to a turnaround is daunting and full of difficult decisions,” the report reads.
“During this project, many voices of faithful, godly women were heard in support of the college. These voices must continue to lift prayers for wisdom, courage and for the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills to sell a few of them on Judson’s behalf so the turnaround can begin and succeed.
“We believe there is something unique and valuable at Judson, worth the investment, especially after nearly two centuries of educating Christian women as leaders and key contributors to their professions, physical and faith communities, and family situations. Overcoming [the challenges outlined in the report] will require focus, discipline, and an ongoing infusion of cash through donor support and other means to do the turnaround necessary for Judson to move from surviving to thriving.”
Judson remains accredited at the present time. School officials self-reported the situation to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in December and a full report is due back to SACS by March 15. From there, decisions will be made regarding the school’s accreditation status.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jennifer Davis Rash, editor-in-chief of The Alabama Baptist, and Mary Amelia Taylor, associate vice president for marketing and communications at Judson College, contributed to this report.)