As you know from my previous communications, the Board of Trustees has been grappling with two very tough decisions over the past months. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility, which means its members are charged with ensuring that our College thrives long into the future. In today’s economy, especially for small, liberal arts institutions, this is no easy task. We must be nimble and adaptable, yet committed to our mission as a liberal arts college. We have a long history of overcoming our challenges creatively and critically—always focused on our commitment to providing the best possible education to both current and future generations of students.
The Board faced two very difficult decisions at its meeting last week: whether to keep the riding program and how to deal with the University of Reading’s significant increase in cost for our study abroad program there. Realizing that both of these programs are held in the highest regard by so many of our alumnae, alumni, and current students, Board members spent long hours trying to find solutions that would make them financially viable. Unfortunately, and not without a measure of regret, the Board has made the decision to close both of these programs by the end of June 2019.
I must be clear in this communication that the College is not closing these programs because it is in financial peril. However, the Board cannot fulfill its duty if it ignores the important issues we face. As we continue the work of becoming a 21st century liberal arts college, we must critically evaluate how we operate, especially when programs come at a high cost in relation to the revenue they produce.
The riding program requires a subsidy of more than $350,000 each year, and it has only met its enrollment goals two out of the last 11 years. It is an expensive program that has declined in popularity with prospective students with a facility that is in need of substantial renovations. On behalf of the Board, I must take a moment to thank those alumnae, alumni, and other supporters who organized a drive recently to create an endowment that would have covered the cost of the program. Despite their hard work, the effort was not enough to overcome the obstacles keeping this program from being viable long term.
The Board’s decision means that our current riders will have the opportunity to “ride out” the program for one more year until the program closes in June 2019. Decisions will be made later about the facility and property. The College will also take ample time to ensure that all of the horses find suitable, proper new homes by June 2019.
The Reading program has also experienced decreased enrollment for many years, despite large efforts to adapt and change to meet current student needs. Compounding the issue was the decision last year by the University of Reading to increase by 500% what we have paid for our students to attend. While we were able to negotiate that figure down to roughly 200%, the cost of the program is still too high for the enrollment it generates.
Therefore, the Board decided to close the program at the end of June 2019. As with the riding program, current students will be allowed one more year in the Reading program. Study abroad is still something we at the College value, and we will continue to help our students find interesting, enriching opportunities around the world, including our popular summer study seminars.
I realize that for many of you, this news will bring feelings of sadness, loss, and even anger. These two programs were important parts of many of your educational experiences and elicit strong memories. I am grateful that we were able to offer these opportunities for students for as many years as we did, and I appreciate the feedback and support we have seen over the past months. However, like the world we live in, we must be willing to change in order to grow. The Board must continue to be strategic, forward thinking, and good stewards of the College’s resources.
These are both exciting and challenging times for institutions of higher learning. Here at Randolph, we are fortunate to have a strong foundation on which to build. There is much to celebrate, from our newly launched M.F.A. in creative writing to the upcoming campaign to renovate Martin Science Building. Our students continue to be bright, creative, and engaged, and our faculty and staff remain committed to providing the best of the liberal arts experience. In addition, our alumnae and alumni provide generous, vital support—financially and of their talents and time. We are excited about our future and remain committed to providing future generations of students a strong liberal arts learning community where they are encouraged, challenged, and prepared to live life abundantly.
Bradley W. Bateman
Randolph College President