Is Evergreen State College about to fold? Benjamin Boyce, who has become the indispensable reporter on the topic, thinks so. In a new video Boyce says current events lead him to believe “this college will be filing for bankruptcy, if not within the next week then by the end of the summer.” That’s a pretty big prediction so what is Boyce basing this on?
Every year the president of Evergreen State College delivers a State of the College speech in which he spells out how things are going and where they are headed. Last year, President George Bridges put on an absurd presentation in which he claimed to be excited about declining enrollment of just over 3,000 students.
Perhaps because President Bridges has announced his resignation in February (as of the end of his current contract), the speech this year was handled a bit different. The key points were delivered by several other administrators. The other big change is that the speech wasn’t recorded this year. It was live streamed. Fortunately, someone did record it and Boyce eventually got a copy of that recording.
What the speech shows is that since last year things have gotten worse for the school in several ways. Every school loses students during a normal year. Some drop out for various reasons (health, finances, etc) but at most schools the so-called retention rate is pretty high. Universities have a vested interest in keeping it as high as possible. But it seems retention has been pretty bad at Evergreen this year. It has been especially bad among out of state students who pay the most to attend. That means the growing hole in the school’s budget is going to be critical in a little over two years.
As Boyce explains, Evergreen has traditionally had an emergency fund which is refilled each year through summer school. But since the events of 2017 they have been drawing heavily on that fund. It has dropped from nearly $10 million dollars to around $5 million and is projected to continue to drop closer to $3 million by next year. At some point fairly soon, the emergency fund will be empty.
The administrator giving the financial part of the briefing concluded, “I can see that we can keep going like this for a year. We can keep going like this for two years. Sometime in the third year we are in a serious problem. We have come to call that the cliff.”
The same administrator showed a graph of projected enrollment which, for reasons I can only guess, predicted enrollment would eventually level off around 2,400 students. The problem as he explained is that “stability is not the same as sustainability.” He continued, “This level of enrollment is not adequate to support a campus this size.”
On top of all of this, the coronavirus has shut down the campus and all classes are moving online. This could potentially have an impact on enrollment everywhere next school year but for a school that is already near the edge of disaster it could be the last straw. What the school is pinning its hopes on is the late summer budget request to the state.
But here again, Boyce thinks (and I agree with him) that the coronavirus is going to present an obstacle. In the midst of a global pandemic with potentially tens of millions of Americans thrown out of work, does anyone really believe the purse strings in Washington state are going to be loosening up for an experimental college which seems to be failing? It’s far more likely the state will decided to tighten up and hold those funds for more pressing concerns. Again, it’s a guess at this point but it seems likely the budget request will not go as Evergreen hopes it will. If so, they will be headed for the cliff without a parachute. We’ll have to wait a few more months to find out.
I recommend you watch all of this clip if you have time. The first half is about Evergreen’s commitment to “Equity.” If you’re short on time you can skip in about 12 minutes to the section about the school’s financial outlook.