A local college is trying to get out ahead of a national trend of colleges and universities forced to close or consolidate. MacMurray College is undertaking an ambitious fundraising effort to raise $2 million dollars by January 31st to close a short fall in general funding.
President Beverly Rodgers says that MacMurray simply has to adapt to the changing higher education environment in the country: “It has more to do with cash flow than closing. It’s nearly an every-week phenomenon now that a college is in trouble, and out of the 20 that have closed, that doesn’t include mergers and acquisitions or what we call ‘absorbtions’ where a college ceases to exist but has been bought by someone else. The board of trustees who were very concerned about the budget, and there is definitely a shortfall – I don’t want to minimize that – decided at a special meeting, a follow-up retreat on December 10th that they would commit to raising a half million dollars. They are almost there and it hasn’t even been a week. We are very pleased. We are reaching out to many of our alumni. Most of our alumni will receive a letter today or tomorrow. It’s been mailed first class in an envelope that is a little different so we hope it gets there attention. We have to change. We need funds to be able to do that.”
According to the Journal of Higher Education, undergraduate enrollment is on the decline, reducing the tuition revenue many small colleges rely on for lack of a sizable endowment. Experts say the drop-off is due in part to a strong economy and projections of a cyclical decline among the college-age demographic. To help attract more students, colleges are offering them a bigger break on tuition. Increased regulation and reduced enrollment continue to be among several factors contributing to the closure or consolidation of colleges and campuses around the country. 23 private liberal arts colleges, including 2 in Illinois, have either consolidated or closed since 2016.
Rodgers says that institutions like MacMurray are changing due to the changing demand by employers. However, she says most of the objectives for employers are common to what people think of as a liberal arts education, a mission Rodgers says MacMurray will never abandoned. Rodgers sees the current financial and curriculum challenge at the college as an opportunity: “Any private college that is small, that’s been in business for a long time, has aging buildings, etc. is facing a critical challenge. Is it possible that MacMurray could close? Yes, it is. Do I think it’s likely? No, I don’t. We’ve had tremendous response. I was so excited after the meeting on December 10th, I received a call on the 11th about a trustee step up and make a significant contribution, matching saying that he is challenging the board to raise funds. The board has stepped up, and we are very close to that half million dollars. This is an opportunity. We have got to change our business model. It isn’t just changing the curriculum and sprucing up the campus. This is a different day and age than it was even 10 years ago. We have to get in step with higher education today.”
Rodgers said that recruiting students to college has changed significantly over the last decade. She said that offering students financial aid and other amenities has become part of the recruitment process. She also said that MacMurray is trying to do a better job of retaining qualified faculty and staff as well as meeting the challenges and demand for current educational resources for students, especially resources that are curriculum specific. Rodgers said that MacMurray like Illinois College gets taken for granted due to its long history in Jacksonville, but it continues to inject over $40 million annually into the local economy according to a recent economic impact study. Rodgers says that MacMurray is going to strengthen its bond with Illinois College by sharing students: “MacMurray College has been supporting Jacksonville and the surrounding counties for decades. We need your help to live and thrive, and when we thrive, it will be of a great benefit to this community. I think for the first time [in the history of the college], we are talking about opportunities with Illinois College. If we have a criminal justice student that wants a minor in instrumental music, why wouldn’t we partner with Illinois College? Or if Illinois College has a student majoring in instrumental music that would like to minor in social work, why wouldn’t we do that? It strengthens both colleges and keeps students here in Jacksonville. I think it is an exciting possibility.”
Rodgers says that the college is also looking at shifting a lot of their programs to expanded online options. She also foresees an expansion to their pre-med majors because of the school’s #1 in the State of Illinois nursing program. She says that a new health care administration major is also currently being worked on to be added to the college’s degree and certificate programs. Rodgers said that streamlining general education credit hour requirements across majors is another project that may be administered soon to help cut costs and confusion for students at the college.
To help MacMurray College reach their fundraising goal, you can donate online at this link.