A reporter from Forbes called my office a few weeks ago. Any time a national reporter calls can be reason for great consternation. I am pleased to report this particular call was a result of good news.
The modern era is proving to be a challenging time for private institutions of higher education across the country. The financial model for these schools is being constrained by numerous factors including increased competition for students, high levels of institutional financial aid and aging physical plants requiring significant capital for deferred maintenance.
Forbes publishes an annual “financial report card” for 993 private colleges and universities across the United States. Each school is graded on their financial health based on several factors. For the past few years, grades have been falling for increasing numbers of institutions that are struggling with financial vitality.
As I talked with the reporter, he explained his surprise when he noticed that a small college in Appalachia had improved its financial letter grade from a “C” in 2015 to a “B+” today. In fact, Davis & Elkins College is in the top 15% of those 993 institutions when ranked for financial health. The reporter asked me if I could comment on what is so special and unique about D&E. As the chief cheerleader for the College, I was overjoyed to respond to the question.
There are three basic reasons D&E is bucking the national trend and garnering positive national attention. First, President Emeritus Buck Smith and the Board of Trustees demonstrated wisdom, bold leadership and fiscal discipline several years ago to put the College’s financial house in order. This required sacrifice by many, including the faculty and staff who deserve credit and recognition. The result was the elimination of all the College’s debt to enable us to spend our scarce financial resources on students rather than debt service.
Second, nearly 5,700 gifts were contributed during a 10-year capital campaign that resulted in gifts, pledges and estate commitments of $101.4 million to make evident why “Secure the Future” was the name given to the fundraising effort. Instrumental in the campaign’s success was a $25 million challenge grant from Jim McDonnell, a member of the D&E Board of Trustees. Finally, the College has committed itself to remain debt-free, financially viable and pursue an aggressive strategic plan that will result in increased enrollment, continuing academic excellence and the creation of a vibrant living and learning environment with the physical transformation of the campus.
The analogy I have shared with our faculty and staff is that the College is like a rowboat. We are fighting a swift current that is flowing against private higher education within this country. The key for D&E is that we are ready, willing and able to face these currents as we row together to move our boat forward into calmer waters. In addition to the faculty and staff, we also need our alumni, friends and partners picking up an oar as we work together to create the D&E that will serve generations of future students.
I look forward to more phone calls from those who want to hear the good news from a unique small College in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia.
These are exciting days!
The journey continues…