Columbia College Challenges and Advantages
The challenges that Columbia College faces are hardly unique.
When the small, private liberal arts college in South Carolina’s capital city said last week it would eliminate some academic majors and reduce faculty and staff, it was following in the footsteps of other women’s colleges.
Some women’s colleges — founded to educate women before they were welcome in larger schools — have gone out of business. In 1987, for instance, Tift College, a 138-year-old women’s college in Forsyth, Ga., shut its doors and merged its operations into Macon’s Mercer University.
Other women’s colleges have cut their tuition in an effort to attract more students. In 2013, Spartanburg’s Converse College cut its tuition by 42 percent in hopes of boosting its enrollment. Last month, Columbia College followed suit, announcing a $10,000-a-year cut in its tuition.
While women’s schools are under pressure nationwide, schools like Columbia College — which has 650 students in its women’s college, down from more than 800 in recent years, and 1,600 students in total, counting its co-ed online, evening and graduate courses — still have a role to play, says Carol Moore, interim provost of the landmark Columbia institution.
Small private colleges make up 40 percent of the country’s 4,100 colleges, estimated Moore. “All of them are challenged financially,” she added.
The (financial) value of an education
In today’s higher ed marketplace, all colleges and universities have to find the right balance between academics and financial viability, said Lemuel Watson, executive director of the Center for Innovation in Higher Education at the University of South Carolina.
“I had to do it as a dean in Illinois,” Watson said. “We had cuts every semester.”
To succeed, a college needs to offer “a creative, academic experience, either online or on campus,” and brand itself as something unique.
“You have to be something very special, and not try to be all things to all people,” Watson said.
Columbia College’s status as a women’s college could help it, despite the struggles of many of its sister schools.
Moore argues the strengths of a women’s school — including an environment that nurtures young women — outweighs any downside, including the absence of men.
650 undergraduates in the women’s college at Columbia College, down from more than 800 in recent years
1,600 total enrollment at Columbia College, including co-ed online, evening and graduate courses.
$10,000 drop in tuition announced for the fall of 2017, to $19,500 a year
“Data indicates women’s college graduates are more successful as politicians, CEOs, in any field you can mention,” said the Columbia College provost.
Amanda Hines agrees.
The 2009 Columbia College graduate said a women’s college taught her leadership, independence and assertiveness in a way she doesn’t feel a co-ed environment could have.
But Hines can sympathizes with current Columbia College students whose majors will be disappearing.
Columbia College eliminated its music education degree shortly after Hines graduated, and Hines still feels that loss when she talks to the middle and high school students who she teaches music to in Aiken County.
“My students ask me, ‘Ms. Hines, where did you go to school?’ and I have to tell them, ‘Unfortunately, (music education) is not there any more,’ ” she said. “It’s awful, because you put your love, and your time, and your passion, and your money into this, and the school put it back into me ... and, now, I recommend them to other places.”
What to do now?
Sabrina Nicole is dealing with the effects of Columbia College’s planned cuts now.
The 20-year-old junior’s history major is one of the programs that Columbia College will be eliminating.
“If you already declared, you should be able to finish out,” she said. “But they’re also getting rid of professors, so I hope I’ll be able to graduate on time.”
Even though the college has been reviewing its programs since this summer, Nicole wishes it had better communicated the changes it was planning. Now, for instance, she’s unsure if the college still will host a planned history conference in 2018 or if the changes will affect her scholarship. (Moore said the moves won’t affect students receiving scholarships now).
“I know a few people are planning to transfer, but they’re mostly freshmen,” said Nicole, who plans to remain at Columbia College because of concerns, in part, that transferring could cause her to have to stay in college longer to graduate.
Especially as we’re a liberal arts college, I feel like it’s weird that we’re getting rid of a lot of the liberal arts.
Sabrina Nicole, junior history major
Still, Nicole said she understands why history has found itself on the chopping block. She says the department only has two professors and four or five majors. But she thought the major would be safe as a “core field.”
“Especially as we’re a liberal arts college, I feel like it’s weird that we’re getting rid of a lot of the liberal arts,” she said.
Under-enrollment in some majors is one of the main reasons that they are being eliminated, Moore said, citing the chance to refocus Columbia College on creating and growing programs that more students are interested in.
“For example, the Spanish major only has three majors, but the number of students interested in minoring in Spanish is high,” Moore said. “So the Spanish program will continue but not with the high-level courses needed for a major.”
A Columbia College sophomore planned to declare a Spanish major after a summer semester in Spain. However, the school will discontinue its Spanish major.
That’s a problem for Caitlyn Wolf.
The 19-year-old sophomore was planning to declare a Spanish major next year and pursue her dream of becoming a Spanish teacher, after a planned trip to Spain over the summer to increase her proficiency in the language.
That trip will be pared back now that a Spanish major is no longer an option.
“People love the program here, so it’s really hard,” Wolf said of the planned changes.