AMHERST – Town Manager Paul Bockelman is concerned about Hampshire College’s uncertain future – and not just because he is an alumnus.
In his most recent report to the Town Council, a document that routinely discusses myriad issues in the community, Bockelman included a statement about Hampshire, which recently announced it would not accept student applicants for the coming fall semester.
“With 648 acres of land, Hampshire is a major landholder in the Town and with approximately 400 full-time and 50 part-time employees, one of our largest employers,” Bockelman wrote.
“I continue to work on this issue with interest expressed from stakeholders at Hampshire College, the region’s business community, and government officials,” he wrote in the report dated Feb. 6.
Since the college’s announcement last month, the institution has shared information on its website that details financial and other problems it’s grappling with.
A briefing released Jan. 30 by the the board of trustees and college president includes information showing that despite the school being re-accredited last year, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges wanted a plan from Hampshire detailing how longstanding financial challenges would be met.
A year ago, then-president Jonathan Lash wrote, in response to concerns raised by the NEASC, “Hampshire’s financial struggles are not new. The College was undercapitalized from the beginning and the structural deficits have steadily grown, to the extent that they now represent an existential threat to our economic survival.”
Lash’s Feb. 19, 2018, letter to the accrediting board said: “In our reaccreditation appraisal of Hampshire’s financial resources we wrote: ‘The Board is convening an ad hoc committee of trustees to take stock of the College’s fiscal status and prospects and to consider options to ensure Hampshire’s long-term financial health and sustainability in alignment with the institutional mission.’ Much has been accomplished in just a few short months.”
The NEASC report, from 2017, had told trustees and president about the good and the bad.
Concerns NEASC documented included: “Hampshire has experienced ongoing challenges with their finances, which has manifested in low salaries for faculty and staff, increasingly thin levels of staffing, increasing scarcity of resources, and critically low levels of faculty and staff morale, all of which is compounded by the lack of consistent multi-year financial planning and modeling. Enrollment and retention challenges in recent years have exacerbated the College’s financial situation and it is unclear whether the College will be able to deploy targeted resources to the areas that are most vital to resolving them and restoring Hampshire’s financial stability.”
Hampshire College was lauded, according to the report, owing to faculty, staff, students and the Trustees’ “deep passion for the College,” working “collectively to achieve its mission” while demonstrating “that they can do more with less.”
The report said, “Hampshire’s commitment to student-centered learning, individualized programs of study, and narrative evaluations in lieu of grades create an environment in which students can thrive intellectually.”
Current enrollment is 1,120.
The college’s briefing document also included these statistics for 2018: “First-year enrollment significantly lower than expected: projected deposits from 397 students but actual was 320; projected census of 345 but actual was 286. Results in $3.5 million deficit.”