Last year was rough for Columbia College. The private women’s college in South Carolina’s capital city eliminated five academic majors that it said had too few students and 80 staff positions, as leaders sought to restructure the small school for the future.
Now, college officials feel like they have their school back on track. Enrollment and financial figures are looking up, and the college is planning to roll out new programs and courses in the near future, they say.
This fall’s incoming class – both freshmen and transfers – included 235 young women, up from 202 last year.
“Our goal for this year was 233, so we exceeded it by two people,” said Carol Moore, Columbia College’s interim president.
Other figures are looking good too, Moore said. Enrollment in Columbia College’s graduate school is up 12 percent. Co-ed evening classes are up almost 4 percent.
“We’ve done an outstanding job setting priorities and making the necessary cuts to right-size the college,” said John C.B. Smith, chairman of Columbia College’s board, adding the reductions were “really hard cuts to make.”
Moore said the restructuring process allowed the school to finish the last academic year with a small surplus in its budget. Those savings should allow the college to start and grow programs it sees as more competitive.
Between next spring and fall 2018, the college will roll out 12 new programs for undergraduates, Moore said. The school also plans a “four-plus-one” master’s of business administration degree that would allow students to finish their undergraduate credits faster.
Ten students already are dual-enrolled in a nursing bridge program with Midlands Tech, and the college recently announced a collaborative fire science program with the Columbia Fire Department.
Christine Hait, the chair of Columbia College’s faculty, said the new programs cap a “busy” period for professors who designed all the new courses – at the same time that many of their co-workers were having their positions eliminated or decided to leave.
“It was a significant period of adjustment,” Hait said. “When positions are deleted, that’s always difficult, because those are your colleagues losing their jobs.”
Moore has been the school’s interim president since Beth Dinndorf stepped down at the end of the 2016-17 school year. Moore said the school hasn’t started the search for a new chief executive while it rolls out new courses, and tries to grow its faculty and student body.
Toward that end, Columbia College is working with Columbia’s Cyberwoven digital ad agency to update its recruitment materials. It also has cut tuition — now $19,500 a year, $10,000 less than last year.
If the tuition cut helps boost enrollment, it will pay for itself, the college hopes.
“As a private college, we are tuition-driven,” Moore said. “Fund raising and grants are a minor part of our revenue stream, so it’s very important we get enrollment up to generate more revenue.”