President Hellie reflects on future of Linfield, small liberal arts colleges

Rosa Johnson, Managing Editor

Thomas L. Hellie president of Linfield College, addressed the upcoming closure of  Sweet Briar Colleg, a small liberal arts school in Virginia.

Hellie addressed the future of liberal arts colleges in America and where Linfield stands.

“Many single-gender colleges have been struggling over the last couple decades. [Sweet Briar’s] location is remote and that may have been a factor in its inability to recruit a sufficient number of students,” Hellie said at the March 9 Faculty Assembly Meeting.

Sweet Briar is an all-women’s college that has been in financial trouble for the past 15 years. It is also a quarter of the size of Linfield, according to Hellie.

Several years ago the college stopped making contributions to the employees’ retirement plans and it canceled its annual membership fees to higher education organizations, Hellie said.

“[Sweet Briar’s] endowments began to fall even as the stock markets were going up,” Hellie said. “This came as a shock to everyone, especially since Sweet Briar has an endowment of $84 million.”

Sweet Briar’s net tuition revenue per student has been shrinking over the last few years even as its enrollment increased.

Fewer students were paying fewer dollars, Hellie said.

Revenue increases on a per student basis have been shrinking at Linfield recently and could be flat next year, according to Hellie.

Linfield finds increasing net revenue difficult after financial aid because traditional students’ financial resources have not grown even as Linfield’s costs have increased. Along with this issue, Linfield’s spring enrollment for the Department of Continuing Education has fallen.

“Unlike Sweet Briar, Linfield has had a balanced budget for the past 39 years. Our endowment is growing, not shrinking. Our location is increasingly attractive in the Pacific Northwest as we have fewer small college competitors. Our demographics are more favorable and we have four times as many students at Linfield than there are at Sweet Briar,” Hellie said.

By appealing to students who want to go into the wine industry this could help keep Linfield from following the same path as Sweet Briar.

Other competing wine education programs in the Pacific Northwest from Oregon State University, Washington State University, Chemeketa Community College and Whitman College could affect Linfield’s enrollment.

President Hellie insists that the sooner Linfield can appeal to this industry then the more students Linfield will be able to attract.

CORRECTION: The article previously stated that spring enrollment is down, and has been corrected to state that spring enrollment is only down for the Department of Continuing Education.

Rosa Johnson can be reached at [email protected]