By Michael B. Alexander
Media here in New England and across the country continue to shine a light on the wide range of challenges facing small, private higher education institutions. Close to home we have also witnessed the devastating impact of recent college closings.
Yet despite some bad news, statistics actually tell a broader and more accurate story – one that shows great promise for Lasell College and its peers.
Data provided by private New England colleges from the past 20 years confirms that 50 percent of these institutions have realized double-digit enrollment increases, with approximately 12 percent of schools doubling undergraduate enrollment during that same time period.
At Lasell College, our enrollment, full-time faculty and endowment have all doubled (or more) over the past ten years.
In the current marketplace -- and with a declining number of high school graduates and college-bound students -- small private colleges must think and act creatively and collaboratively to remain in positions of strength. We must adapt to new technologies and the ever-changing needs of our students. In my experience, colleges can make adjustments without losing touch with their institutional identity.
With cost-reduction among today’s top higher education priorities, small colleges must demonstrate how to best utilize economies of scale.
As an example, Lasell provides information technology services to a neighboring college and is an active participant in a healthcare consortium among 16 Massachusetts colleges designed to reduce costs while still providing excellent coverage for employees. We are in fact engaged in more than 20 collaborations with other institutions.
Another example of a cost-saving alliance with a nearby school focuses on shared facilities: While our students play baseball on Brandeis University’s field in Waltham, Brandeis students row their crew shells out of Lasell’s boathouse in Newton.
Because of the steps we have taken to address the rapidly evolving marketplace, Lasell has earned an operating cash surplus for the last 24 years. We have invested these surpluses in the hiring of new faculty, the implementation of new programs, the renovation of existing facilities, and the construction of new buildings in order to improve the quality of the student experience.
Equally important, Lasell is known as one of the top intergenerational learning facilities in the world. It’s worth noting that for more than 18 years, Lasell Village, home to more than 225 residents, has provided an additional revenue stream for the College.
Lasell, which has long been guided by a “student first” approach, is recognized for consistently evaluating, testing and adjusting our programs, initiatives and facilities since our inception in 1851. For example, our division of Graduate and Professional Studies grew enrollment by more than 40 percent over the last 18 months.
There are more than 90 colleges and universities in Massachusetts. They all offer unique opportunities to foster the next generation of leaders. Today’s student is vastly different from the one who walked the campus ten years ago and a freshman who attends classes in 2028 will be different as well.
I remain bullish on the future of higher education as a whole, including smaller private schools like Lasell. As I look at our campus and engage with our student body, I understand the challenges we face. But I also embrace the many opportunities for meaningful change.
And I do so with confidence and optimism, rooted in history and based on what I have witnessed every day over more than 11 years as president.
Michael B. Alexander is president at Lasell College in Newton.