Having just read Dr. Crazy's recent post on higher ed reform, and having also just come from the first day of our faculty retreat (via a colleague's house--sorry; I'm a little drunk; I'll try to make this coherent or at least typed well) has me feeling...dare I say, good about my dinky little college.
Here's what's what.
First, yesterday we got raises. Or rather, we had a meeting with the president and AND (Awesome New Dean, for those just joining us) in which the current financial priorities were explained and we got our new salary envelopes. Now, okay, our salaries really suck pretty deeply, and the board was recently made aware of just how badly off we all were compared to other institutions in our state. So it's not like we started off strong and this is just icing. No; even with my (quite modest) raise, I'm way below equity. But it's a start, at a time when most colleges and universities are doing no such thing. Moreover--and more importantly--full professors were given priority in the new salary scheme. Many of the fulls have been here for ages, working away for like $50k--more than I make (let me be clear: my salary still kind of sucks, like a lot)--but quite a terrible salary. And they got the big bumps. And this was explained to us, by rank, quite fully, such that I'm okay with my modest raise and really pleased that the college is looking out for its more senior folk, too--folk who, in this profession, could not get other jobs at this point and who could, therefore, safely be screwed over if the administration so chose.
Now, there's a more cynical reading or two of all of the above, but I don't think that there's any reason to pursue it.
Second: for like the fifth year in a row, our enrollment is at a record high. And, because we are tuition-driven and have NO endowment or state funding, this means that we're doing okay (by our piddly standards). Benefits are secure. All retirees were replaced last year and we have one new tenure line. Our new hires have stellar records and great degrees. And with the large number of new faculty that we've hired over the last few years, there's a lot of energy--a lot of positive change. (Our senior faculty ROCK, by the way. But many of them are tired. It's good to have new people to push us forward, too.)
Our priorities this year involve, essentially, assessing how well our curriculum integrates and advances our liberal arts mission. We have a lot of pre-professional ideology to push against, but I like the direction of our agenda--and that pushback is not from the administration, and that's a good thing.
And we discovered this summer that somewhere in the range of 60% of our first-year students are first-generation; it seems to me that this is relatively high for a SLAC, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it's good to know. It will surely affect some pedagogy, but it also has helped me, at least, think differently about our mission and what exactly we're doing here.
I hate to be a Pollyanna. And so I'll admit that, yes, this job is rotten on a number of days: we do too much, we are too small, and have I mentioned that our salaries are lame? But at least I feel like we're pointed in the right direction (and doing better financially than we have in a long time, apparently), and that everyone is pretty much on board. I hope that there are other colleges out there in the same boat, and that the outlook on Higher Ed need not be as bleak as it so often seems.