Podcast: Students, faculty, staff all feel the pain in college closures
College closures are hard on students. They’re also exceedingly difficult for faculty and staff.
Laura De Veau had been with Mount Ida College for 10 years—first as director of residence life, then later as vice president for student affairs—when the Newton, Massachusetts, school announced on April 6, 2018, that it would be closing down six weeks later.
“The immediate response from everybody is as it should be: ‘What’s going to happen to the students?’” De Veau told me on the ninth installment of the Lumina Foundation podcast “Today’s Students/Tomorrow’s Talent.”
“Then, when you think about the impact of a closure and you think about who in the community has been impacted, there are people who are paying mortgages and people who have lives and that sort of thing, and those lives are even more difficult in many ways to clean up after with that ripple effect.”
I’ve spent the past two episodes of the podcast exploring the impact of college closures. In Episode 8, the focus was on students. In this installment, I thought it was important to recognize that colleges are home to hundreds, if not thousands, of staff and faculty members, all with lives that are deeply woven into campuses and campus towns.
De Veau, who wrote a great piece for Medium about Mount Ida’s closing, offered several pieces of advice to staff and faculty members whose schools close. Among them:
When friends tell you that you’re going to be OK, it’s fine to ignore them. “When you have spent your life in a specific trajectory and all of a sudden, what you have done is no longer your identity … you don’t always feel OK.”
Be a little selfish and take care of yourself. “Identify what you need and get the help that you need.” De Veau said she used her daily planner to write down what happened each day. “You really don’t realize while you’re going through all of it, all these little details that you had to address. And when it’s over and you go back to look at it all, it helps put things into perspective as to how you actually did help people, because you feel really helpless at the end.”
Recognize that you’re not the reason the school closed; you’re the reason people feel sadness that the place is closing. “I truly believe that if my team hadn’t done the exceptional work that they did when Mount Ida was alive and well, that students wouldn’t have felt the sense of loss when it closed.”
My other guests—Jamienne Studley, president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and University Commission, and Brad Kelsheimer, vice president and CFO here at Lumina Foundation—also shared their perspectives about college closures.
Studley said that when it comes to closing a school, college leaders need to be like a ship’s commander.
“The captain is in charge,” she said, “but they have to continue to meet safety standards and health standards. We need to act the way I think the Coast Guard does, which is to have the authority to be the ones who say, ‘It is now time to plan to leave for the lifeboats and we have arranged lifeboats,’ and to reassure the passengers both that we’re on top of it and that the exit strategy is planned.”
Kelsheimer, who served in financial and administrative roles on two college campuses before coming to Lumina, said that one idea to help stem the number of closures is for struggling schools to form partnerships and share services. Unfortunately, he said, “Right now, we have an environment where it is easier to close than it is to consolidate.”