June 22, 2009
For Colleges Needing Cash, Summer’s No Longer a Quiet Season
By LISA W. FODERARO
Time was you could hurl a Frisbee clear across a college green in summer and be assured that you would not bop anyone on the head. If not exactly a ghost town, the typical campus was strangely still from June to August, offering administrators an opportunity to regroup and recharge.
But in recent years, empty campuses have been recognized as potential cash cows, and colleges have tried to fill those once-sleepy weeks with enrichment workshops, for-credit courses, day camps, conferences, private parties and film shoots. That is especially true this summer, as financially battered schools seek to wring all the value they can from venerable halls and shiny athletic centers.
At the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona, administrators offered discounts of up to 20 percent on tuition for summer courses, advertising heavily in local media. The college also reeled in two new summer camps, a general-interest day camp and a wrestling camp, that will pay for the privilege of using the facilities.
“The overall landscape now is one in which you’ve got to become leaner and meaner and more competitive, and that means trying to find more sources of revenue,” said Tim Kelly, a college spokesman. “Summer is an important piece of the puzzle.”
There is a marketing upside, too, in maintaining a busy campus in summer, administrators say. On campus tours, prospective students and their parents respond better to a vibrant environment. And a high school student who takes, say, a three-week screenwriting workshop might remember that institution when applying to college.
But while colleges may be working harder to derive revenue from campuses this summer, some are running headlong into the weakened economy. For years, Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., has held or run more than 20 athletic, cultural and academic programs and camps in summer. This year, a half-dozen have folded, citing falling enrollments.
In a usual year, Vassar would reap $400,000 to $500,000 from all the summer activity, but this year the yield will range from $300,000 to $350,000. “That’s a reality we’re all facing,” said Susan DeKrey, a college spokeswoman. “Families and individuals are looking at what they can afford to spend on extra things.”
Some colleges are using the economic downturn as a sort of muse, developing summer workshops geared specifically to downsized workers. Hofstra University on Long Island, for instance, created a class on résumé-writing and interviewing skills.
Hofstra also sought to deflect any economic impact on its sports camps by dispatching coaches, armed with brochures, to high school sporting events. “It was much more intensive this year,” Rich Guardino, vice president for business development at Hofstra, said of the marketing campaign. “We had an early-registration discount and offered some payment plans, which we haven’t done in the past.”
Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., pitched its summer-session graduate courses to those switching fields or bolstering résumés. “We’ve emphasized our summer school a lot more as a way to catch up, get ahead, stay on track,” said Mary Anne Nagy, vice president for student services at Monmouth. “In times of recession, higher education can actually benefit because people are retooling.”
It’s working: enrollment in graduate courses has jumped 20 percent this summer over last. Summer courses are just the tip of the ivory tower at Monmouth, however. This weekend alone, the university leased parts of the campus to a bridal-wear catalog for a photo shoot, a local hospital for an annual carnival and a father-son basketball clinic.
Several outside camps, including one devoted to cheerleading and another to yearbooks, as well as the college’s own sports camps, are returning this summer. Also back is a Police Explorer training program, a boot camp for teenagers, as Ms. Nagy put it. (“The high school students in the police camp also learn that we have a criminal justice program,” she said.)
But the university is most excited about two new revenue sources. An international school nurses conference will bring more than 100 nurses in late July, from as far away as Japan, along with about $30,000 in income. And Fort Monmouth, the nearby Army post, is renting some 30 university-owned apartments for its interns, for an additional $50,000.
All told, the university expects to make $600,000 to $800,000 from outside groups this summer. “If we didn’t have that revenue, then we couldn’t do certain things and we might not be able to keep tuition down,” Ms. Nagy said.
Some colleges have layered on new programs for high school students, tapping into the interest in constructing college résumés. Purchase College in Westchester County already had visual arts and jazz institutes for teenagers, with two- and four-week sessions. It now boasts several more: programs in photography, filmmaking, journalism, theater and Shakespeare.
“Any college worth its salt is constantly looking for new program development,” said Christine L. Persico, dean of the School of Liberal Studies and Continuing Education. “But the need for revenue is greater than ever, so the pressure might be a little bit more.”
Four years ago, Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester received orders from its board of trustees to make more hay of summer. Like Purchase College, it created workshops for high school students. But being residential in nature, the three-week programs have attracted teenagers from around the country for instruction in writing, visual arts and screenwriting.
One, called Summer in the City, involves faculty-led excursions to New York City, with the focus on history one week, scientific research the next and architecture the third. “We’re in the third year of most of them, and from the first year to the second we doubled,” said Micheal W. Rengers, the college’s vice president for operations. “This year we’re holding our own.”
As Sarah Lawrence waits for the economy to rebound, administrators are grateful when something falls from the sky, as happened recently when a new sports camp was looking for a venue. “We’ll make just around $50,000,” Mr. Rengers said of the deal for a six-week session.
The single biggest tenant at Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., is a seven-week sports camp that pays more than $300,000. But the other uses — a summer institute for gifted children, an adult theater camp, a music festival and a swim program — add up. It certainly did not hurt that last week HBO shot scenes for a Martin Scorsese series in the college’s signature 1888 building, Reid Castle. (Ka-ching: $25,000.)
“If you add up all our summer programs, it’s probably in the $750,000 range,” said Greg Palmer, the college’s vice president of operations. “It’s not an incredible amount of money, and I’m sure a lot of bigger colleges do a lot more. But our endowment has taken a hit like most schools’, and for us it’s very important.”