The great Economist(?) Ernest Hemingway said that bankruptcy happens two ways: First gradually, then suddenly. I think Colleges are going to be taking a whirlwind tour of those two phases in the next couple of years.
I saw a headline that 20% of Harvard admittees this year are deferring. I think gap years are going to be very popular. Those who do go will face stupidity on a level that would shame a drunken fratboy, and conditions that would not be tolerated in our prisons. An example: My local university is only allowing one person per dorm room, and no visitors between rooms. That’s stupid on its face. The rule won’t be followed, unless North-Korea levels of surveillance are enacted. Colleges are cancelling their sportsball seasons left and right. College is about to become very austere, very expensive, and entirely useless. (I think you can get away with two of those at a time. Austere and Expensive must be useful, expensive and useless must be wild and crazy, austere and useless must be cheap.) College used to be a good value, and academically rigorous. Now it is neither of those things. Even parents who recommend it to their children, say “you need the college experience”. It isn’t the learning that’s important. It’s the experience. The wild and crazy fun time before entering adulthood. Anything you learn is really incidental to that. Oh, the Marxist indoctrination and struggle sessions are rampant – that must be also be endured. But any learning that is useful is incidental to those things.
People are realizing they are paying exorbitant prices for leftist indoctrination under conditions that are banned by the Geneva conventions as human rights abuse. It won’t last. Those who defer “for a year” will eagerly greet their friends at Christmastime, only to discover that their friends have nothing good to report. High School seniors will similarly get reports from friends and siblings at the holidays. And then?
Well, so far, we’ve been through different phases of this:
Winter/Spring: Let’s just get through this. We’re all in it together!
Spring/Early Summer: We’ll regroup for next year! It will be find in the fall!
Now: Don’t worry! We’ll do something! It won’t be as bad as you think! Also, it will probably be cancelled almost immediately. You’ll still pay 30K for online classes, right?
So, here’s my prediction. Those who are waiting on the sidelines, or not yet in the game will decide that they don’t want it – probably about Christmastime – and will look for other ways to find their fortune in the world. (Skilled trades, military service, etc.) College enrollments – already teetering on the brink – will go into free fall for the 2021-2022 year. Aside from schools like Harvard (which has an endowment large enough that they don’t actually need students to remain financially viable) many/most schools are already financially unhealthy.
Now, my interest in leftist state institutions is pretty minimal. But as a member in good standing of the Lutheran Church – Missourah Synod, and a graduate of four different LCMS schools over the years, I have a sort of vested interest that LCMS schools not totally collapse. Our schools are definitely NOT in a position to weather prolonged reliance on endowment funds. We’ve lost two schools already. Another took a seven million dollar loan to cover operating expenses – and that was before The RONA hit. (They also have one of those shrewd online-schooling contracts with the folks who bankrupted Portland. Talk about wise as a box of rocks, yeesh!)
Here is my advice: The Concordias are going to need to consolidate. This isn’t opinion. With two closed and one on the brink even Baghdad Bob would admit things look grim. We need to plan for it ahead of time – and there is very little time left – so we don’t get hit with multi-million dollar lawsuits. That way we can use the consolidation to strengthen our position, rather than just writing off one valuable property after another, and then spending money we don’t have in litigation for the next decade. Any solution will require selflessness on the part of all, and a spirit of self-sacrifice for the sake of the church. I’m not sure our Concordias have that in them, but if they still do, here’s what we need to do.
- Call a meeting of all our Presidents and Board of Regent Chairmen, with the Presidium of Synod and the CUS Board. Zoom if necessary, but in person as much as possible. Have everyone frankly lay on the table any adverse contracts, outstanding obligations, and long term debts, as well as any long-term benefits, assets, etc. This is not the time to hide problems. Make clear that any school that hides a problem, when (NOT IF) it is discovered, will be on the chopping block immediately.
- Immediately suspend any golden parachutes to outgoing presidents. Any deals that presidents make to pillage institutions on the way out will be publicized. The sweetheart deal that the president of Portland got as he left could serve as an example of what not to do. This gives Presidents skin in the game.
- Contact any contract holders of large contracts/liabilities – let them know that the contract needs to be renegotiated. Show them the articles about Portland, let them know they will end up without a dime, and looking like jerks. If you want to run an online platform for a college, it’s a hard sell when you kill/bankrupt multiple colleges and then sue them to try to pick over the bones. That’s not a good look long term.
- Reduce expenses. I don’t mean “We’re going to cut janitorial by 10%. Departments will have to empty their own garbage cans.” I mean “The LCMS is not going to support a school with programs inimical to our doctrine. No funds. No loans. No help.” If you want to survive, you need Lutheran faculty teaching Lutheran doctrine. Entire departments need to go – mostly in the soft sciences. They’ve always been hotbeds of Marxism. Time to cut the dead weight. The Concordias need to refocus on who they are – Lutheran institutions of higher learning. The local non-Christian students that have been carrying us for the last few decades are going to be gone anyway. Who needs a masters in underwater Marxist basket weaving when the local government has closed all waterparks? So plan for that to happen. Cut now, before the departments become a drag.
- Figure out how many schools we could realistically support from Lutheran students. Then expend the scope. If we make the institutions specifically Christian and Lutheran with high-quality education (Hillsdale style) we can enter a niche that is looking for more entrants. Hillsdale entry requirements are now so strict that they accept only the best and brightest from among the best and brightest. I know of several people who have been denied admission, despite stellar credentials. There is a market for this. But we need to get off the Marxist-leftist bandwagon, and fast. And coordinate between schools more so we don’t end up with duplicated programs that don’t need to be duplicated. We don’t need three different Deaconess programs. (I’m bringing the seminaries into this, but the principle holds. Take a close look at some of these small programs and figure out to run them out of one (or at most two) schools.
- How many schools could we run with this model? Maybe 4. You may say, “But that’s no good! We would be sacrificing four more schools!” Yes. But 3 or 4 high-quality schools that survive is better than 8 slowly bleeding to death on their own. In that scenario, maybe 2 make it through, and then only limply. Look into shared governance – The Mequon/Ann Arbor model might work for some. (Churches call this the Hub-and-spoke or Cathedral model. ) Perhaps re-open a closed campus as extension schools of the Hub school. This could save on administration.
- We don’t need diversity officers. We can probably do without a lot of officials at our schools. It isn’t the whole solution, but we need a top – down look at administration/funding, etc. Look at schools that have lower overhead than we do (Lutheran or otherwise) – call them exemplar schools. Investigate how they do it. Bring what could work into our schools.
- Portland has proven that their’s no money to be had from closing a school. Closing costs and lawsuits eat up any profits from the sale of property. So if any schools aren’t on board, or would otherwise be closed, offer them a one-time deal: They can walk away with their school, take all their obligations with them, as long as they don’t use the name Concordia anymore. Clean break. It sucks. It would be nice to sell the land and pocket the dough. But that won’t happen. And we need to move forward.
- Rededicate ourselves to actually living up to the promo videos. I see a bunch of stuff about quality Lutheran education. And then I see what questions get asked in “meet the potential new president candidate forums” by the local faculty. These are marginally Lutheran administratively at the top. But beyond that, the faculty is hostile to Lutheran theology. That can’t continue. A house divided, and all that. Faculty that aren’t on board with being distinctively Lutheran should be given a glowing recommendation, and shown the door. For those who want to stick it out and fight, show them the salary scale in use at Concordia Portland this year. Offer to give them a tour of the Faculty offices at our University in Selma. It’s time be actively, unapologetically Lutheran.
- Yes, this will be painful. But I recall hearing an academic advisor telling a student, “You can take theology classes at Local Catholic school. Since you aren’t a church work student, they’ll transfer over, they’re cheaper, and they’re much easier.” That was in 1991. This has been a problem for a looooong time. We have a last chance to fix it before the judgment arrives. But only just.
- Plan to consolidate. I don’t know the ins and outs of college admin. But I know what it means to run out of cash and have to consolidate. I serve three congregations – until I serve a fourth. I know of a five-point parish. And I’ve seen what happens when the response is “We’ll just keep doing what we were doing until we run out of money. Then we’ll do it without money!” Those congregations close. We’ve lost two pretty much independent Universities. Another would have closed – it survived because a sister institution looked outside itself and offered to help. Our Universities are incredibly complex organizations. This will take time. We don’t have much left. If we dither now, we will lose much more. If we plan ahead, make hard choices, and be who we are, we can weather this storm, and come out the other side stronger – even if that means 2-4 uniquely Lutheran Universities instead of 8 sort-of-Lutheran universities.
- Marxism is either coming to its end, or it will burn everything in its path. If the former, it’s as good a time as any to get off the bandwagon. If the latter, it won’t matter, so there’s nothing to lose that we wouldn’t have lost anyway.
This was a longer post than I intended. But I think this is important. Not that I expect anyone will listen. But maybe, once it’s all over, someone will look at this – and writings from smarter people than I who have advocated similar things – and say “Wow. Some people did fight. If only someone had listened. Maybe we could try and rebuild according to this model.” If so, it was worth my time.