Can Colleges Cut Their Way to Greatness?

Messiah Union

No, according to community college dean Matt Reed.

Reed’s post at his Inside Higher Ed blog “Confessions of a Community College Dean” should be taken seriously by all college administrators.

In places with declining enrollments and without generous external benefactors, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constant cutting. Each year is a fresh emergency, bringing another round of short-term patches and “temporary” workarounds that quickly become new baselines.

Over time, though, the cuts do damage that starts to show up in enrollments. Too many classes cancelled or calls unreturned lead to attrition, which leads to calls for still more cuts. Cut an off-campus location to save money, and whoops, you lose its enrollments, leading to a need for more cutting. Add an inexorably rising underlying cost — say, just hypothetically, health insurance — and you have the makings of a death spiral.

What makes the spiral so insidious is that each individual decision that constitutes it, taken individually, makes sense. It’s the cumulative effect that proves fatal. 

Interrupting the death spiral is much harder than it looks, though.

At a really basic level, it takes recognition of what’s happening. That means getting beyond the short-term panic of a scary looking balance sheet to look several years into the future. And it means getting past the simpleminded assumption that the only barrier to draconian cuts is a lack of guts.

So that means a combination of vision and emotional self-control. Already, that’s a tallish order.

Read the entire post here.