Administrators at Erskine College presented its board of trustees in August 2018 a “six-year enrollment plan which boldly envisions Erskine growing to one thousand students,” according to a document written by board chairwoman Jill Gazzaway and submitted to the General Synod of the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church.
One year later, the plan seems to be working.
This fall, Erskine will welcome more than twice as many new students as it did the year before. As of Friday, a record 423 freshman and transfer students had enrolled, according to the dean of enrollment.
The document submitted to the General Synod did not detail the enrollment plan. In response to a request for an interview with Erskine administration, a spokesperson provided the Index-Journal with a press release and several comments from the college’s leadership.
“A plan like this is visionary — it’s about where we are going and the kind of school we want to be,” President Robert Gustafson said. Without describing what the plan entails, he added that it “addresses the needs of the institution, financial as well as other needs, which can change over time.”
According to a one-page 2019 operating budget that accompanied Gazzaway’s report, the college does have financial needs.
Erskine took in about $10 million in tuition, fees, room and board after accounting for scholarships and financial aid. It spent $16 million on operating expenses, salaries and debt service. Supplemented by endowment and other income, it ended the year with a $1.5 million deficit.
Regarding the operating budget, spokesperson Joyce Guyette wrote: “it is not our practice to publish such information.”
In her report to the General Synod, Gazzaway notes that small, liberal arts colleges like Erskine are tuition-driven. “Therefore, student recruitment and successful retention of these students are essential.”
The report cites the creation of new athletic and academic programs as a driver of growing enrollment.
In 2020, Erskine will debut three new graduate programs: a five-year Bachelor of Arts to Master of Divinity, a Master of Athletic Training and a Master of Christian Counseling.
But affordability might also play a factor.
In December, Erskine announced it would expand an existing scholarship and offer $25,000 per year to every graduate of one of the eight charter high schools it sponsors who enrolls at the college and lives on-campus. Tuition will be $34,435 in the 2019-20 school year, while room, board and fees will cost about $13,540.
For Charter Institute graduates, attending Erskine will cost less than the Lakelands’ public four-year college, Lander University, which costs more than $19,000 per year for in-state students paying for room and board.
“Institutional aid and scholarships are certainly a part of our enrollment plan,” acknowledged Christian Habeger, vice president of finance and operations.
“Like many small private colleges, Erskine has faced financial challenges,” Habeger said. “We are excited about this year’s enrollment increase because it is a significant step toward healthy growth as an educational institution.”