- Elected officials have been receptive enough to Birmingham-Southern College’s pleas for millions in public funding to keep it afloat that for now, the nonprofit institution’s leaders must focus solely on plans to wind down operations.
- The college is still working with Alabama lawmakers about two months later it said it was looking $37.5 million in public funding to help keep its doors open as it tries to raise money to dig itself out of the financial crisis. College presidents hope to know if public money is on the way by state Legislature convening March 7 President Daniel Coleman he wrote in Friday’s letter addressed to university stakeholders.
- But Birmingham-Southern is also preparing eventualities in case the money does not arrive. Faculty will meet with students next week to help them prepare to transfer in case they need to, Coleman wrote.
Birmingham-Southern presents a situation that often confounds leaders at cash-strapped colleges on the brink of closure: how to communicate with key campus constituencies and the public.
Leaders worry that early announcements may discourage a new class of students from enrolling, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that the college will close. Institutions that wait to share details about the situation can leave students and staff evaluating their options at a rapid pace.
The stakes for students are high. Research suggests students whose colleges closed abruptly re-enrolled at other institutions at much lower rates than those whose colleges closed in an orderly fashion. Only 4 in 10 students who go through a sudden closure re-enroll, compared with more than 6 in 10 who re-enroll after an orderly closure, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and State Higher Education Executive Officers said in a joint analysis last year Association.
Birmingham-Southern’s strategy can be seen as bridging two extremes—publicly communicating its vulnerability while aggressively seeking ways to remain open. But as a private, not-for-profit institution, there is no guarantee that policymakers will open the public checkbook in response. institution lobbies publicly for his future.
Complicating the situation is that Birmingham-Southern is seeking money from several different levels of government — $12.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding that the state controls, $17.5 million from the Alabama Education Fund, $5 million from the city of Birmingham and $2.5 million from Jefferson County.
“While we all wish we already had a definitive (and affirmative) answer, the simple truth is that when public funds are involved, there are many, many moving parts and deciding factors,” Coleman wrote in a letter Friday.
Birmingham Southern said in December that it would tell high school seniors by mid-January whether it would be accepting applications for the upcoming year. For now, the institution plans to continue operating as usual, Coleman wrote Friday.
This includes hosting potential students and accepting applications. Compared to the same point last year, applications to Birmingham-Southern are up 25%, and the institution is quickly accepting 33% more students, according to Coleman.
The college received just over 3,000 applications for Fall 2022. It accepted 1,726 students and 244 enrolled.
Still, Birmingham-Southern plans to meet with current students to prepare them for the transfer. The process will begin with juniors, then work its way up to freshmen.
“I know it’s challenging to operate on parallel tracks — planning for the next year at BSC while developing a contingency plan in case the worst happens,” Coleman wrote. “Please be assured that students are our highest priority and that our faculty will be ready to provide them with good information and wise counsel.”
Birmingham Southern’s financial problems have been years in the making. College leaders attribute them to errors in financial aid, accounting problems, the impact of the Great Recession and money spent on a construction program nearly two decades ago.
The institution has been shedding students for years, with only 1,058 enrolled in fall 2021, according to federal data. The U.S. Department of Education has designated it as in need of special financial oversight.