By Kirk Carapezza
May 2, 2019
It’s the end of the semester and Hampshire College students aren’t just worried about their final projects, but whether their small college can stay open. Inside the new student center on a recent sunny morning, some sip iced coffee while others give each other massages to relax and focus.
“It’s been really distracting for someone who just wants to graduate,” said Owen Nied, 21, a second-year student from Chester, Vermont. The announcement back in January that the college would not admit a full class this fall was jarring. “I panicked a little bit because nobody really knew anything.”
Facing a financial and enrollment crisis, Hampshire is at risk of losing its accreditation. To save itself, the college is cutting faculty and staff and launching a major fundraising campaign. At first, the alternative college, which doesn’t have grades or majors, sought a merger. Then, two months later, facing criticism from faculty, students and alumni, President Miriam Nelson resigned abruptly.
Since then, interim president Ken Rosenthal, one of Hampshire’s founders, and the board of trustees have voted to keep Hampshire open and independent by raising millions.
“I think it will buy them time,” said Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation and author of the forthcoming book “Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life.” Horn sees fundraising as a band-aid that won’t solve Hampshire’s fundamental problem.
“They still have a broken business model,” Horn said. “They’re losing students every year, and the number of full-paying students is minuscule on the campus right now.”