Hampshire College to cut benefits as enrollment for next school year comes in below projections

The Hampshire College campus on Tuesday afternoon in Amherst.

The Hampshire College campus on Tuesday afternoon in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer

Published: 06-27-2024 7:21 PM

AMHERST — Responding to fall enrollment numbers that are lower than anticipated, Hampshire College plans to temporarily freeze retirement contributions for all employees and cut salaries for senior staff members next school year to meet the college’s operating budget goal of roughly $44 million.

The college in Amherst has operated at a deficit since 2019, when the institution didn’t take an incoming class and nearly closed. Since then, Hampshire College developed and deployed a path toward financial stability by 2027, partially depending on incremental increases in enrollment to bolster revenue.

“Enrollment is slightly below where we wanted to be coming into the fall, so we’re making choices in how we want to handle our expenses in terms of our trajectory,” Chief Advancement Officer Jennifer Chrisler said.

Hampshire projected student enrollment to reach the college’s historical average of 1,200 students in the 2024-2025 school year, but Chrisler said the actual enrollment this fall will be just over 900 students, with only 310 new students joining the campus.

While that’s lower than projected, enrollment at the college has steadily climbed over the past three years, growing from 500 students in 2022 to 700 students this year. Applications to Hampshire College will remain open until the end of summer, possibly adding to student enrollment.

“Hampshire is viable and sustainable and is going to remain open whether were 1,000 or 1,200 students,” Chrisler said. “The question is where are we going to land ultimately.’

Hampshire College overbudgeted by roughly $1 million during its budgeting process, prompting temporary cuts to senior officials salaries and retirement benefits.

But the operating budget appearing before the board of trustees on Friday for approval includes cost-of-living raises for all employees making under $100,000 and an additional week of paid time off, Chrisler said.

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Employees with a salary of $40,000 or less will receive an 8% increase. Staff taking home between $40,000 and $50,000 will earn 6% more next year. Faculty making between $50,000 and $60,000 will see a 4% increase, and all other salaries between $60,000 and $100,000 will get a flat $1,200 raise.

After the board reviews the operating budget, Chrisler said senior officials will begin “restructuring and looking at the administrative footprint of the college in light of the trajectory of 1,000 enrolled students.” It’s unclear if this will involve any reduction of staff, she said.

The reworked budget for fiscal 2025 comes five years after the college nearly closed due to low enrollment. In February 2019, Hampshire College’s board of trustees voted to not accept a full class due to the unknown financial future of the institution, dropping enrollment from 1,1175 students to around 600 students. That decision led to a reduction in staff and administrators.

At the same time, former Hampshire College President Miriam “Mim” Nelson reached out to many other universities about a potential partnership, but trustees ultimately voted in favor of staying independent. Around that time, Nelson and Kim Saal, vice chair of the board of  trustees, resigned.

Hired in August 2019, Hampshire College President Edward Wingenbach has led the institution to steady enrollment increases culiminating in 2023, when the college admitted its largest class in five years. Two months ago, Wingenbach told news media that the college was on a path to financial viability, promoting the college’s unique approach to higher education as a major draw for the campus.

In 2020, Hampshire College began a fundraising campaign to save the school, with a goal of $60 million by 2024. The initiative was led by documentary filmmaker and famed alumni Ken Burns, and has since seen large donations from $1 million to $5 million made in honor of the filmmaker or by other famous alumni like Stonyfield Organic co-founder Gary Hirshberg. The campaign is currently at $42.6 million and remains open for donations.

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.