Colby-Sawyer College ditches English and Philosophy Majors to survive

Hello All,

I saw this in the Boston Globe today and found it interesting but not entirely surprised. It seems to me that these small liberal arts colleges have a serious problem given the high prices they charge. The article talks about the middle class having a hard time paying the $50K tuition bill. They got that right!

Here is the link.

According to the article, there are 18 students majoring in English and 0 students majoring in philosophy. But nursing, business, and sports management are supposedly its most successful programs. gives the following number of graduates for each major in 2014-2015:

73 various health professions (including 28 nursing)
36 parks, recreation, leisure, fitness studies
33 social sciences (including 17 sociology)*
32 business
31 early childhood education
24 psychology*
20 biology*
13 visual and performing arts*
11 English and creative writing*
2 philosophy*

Only about a third of graduates that year were in majors normally considered “liberal arts” (marked with * above).

Ah, the vocational-schoolification of higher ed.

Sad story, esp. for those English majors, and I definitely hope the college has better days ahead.

We’re going to be seeing more of this.

very sad

I haven’t heard of this school before, and after all the drama related to college search for my D17, I’ve heard of most colleges. Is it a regionally respected school?

And for that reason, one might question whether Colby-Sawyer is, in fact, a “liberal arts college”. For example, Colby-Sawyer isn’t considered a “liberal arts college” for the purposes of the USN&WR rankings – it’s been in the separate “Regional College” category for many years.

Colby-Sawyer has historically tried to brand itself as a “liberal arts college”, presumably because of the cachet traditionally associated with that concept. But they haven’t really functioned as one for years, and so the forthcoming changes are more symbolic than substantive. The termination of the philosophy major, for example, is not going to significantly change the character of a school that has zero philosophy majors.

In today’s economic climate, it probably makes sense for Colby-Sawyer to move away from the “liberal arts college” branding, and to emphasize their strengths as a pre-professional institution instead. They may not be able to compete with (say) Plymouth State on price, but they may still find a successful niche if they can offer smaller classes, friendlier professors, and a better residential college experience.

We had looked at this school, and really liked it for my D19 as a safety. She is wants to pursue English/ Creative Writing!! Guess it’s not very safe for her anymore :wink:

@JenJenJenJen this school is regionally known. We are in MA and there are kids who go there every year from our high school. It isn’t a selective school though so it’s not the type that gets a lot of notice on this site.

I have heard of it, but only because a teaching assistant from my school went there. Outside of that I do not think it is particularly well known

Just for the record, Colby-Sawyer College (in New Hampshire) has no connection at all with Colby College (in Maine).

The latter really is a top-ranked liberal arts college, and I’m sure that they have no plans to drop their English or philosophy degree programs.

I don’t think this is as “sad” as many posters feel. If the school is able to deliver a high quality education in certain “vocational” fields and that’s what the students there are looking for, it probably makes sense for them to do that as well as possible and to devote resources to that rather than trying to be all things to all people.

Few LACs offer programs in nursing or accounting. Many do not offer engineering. Students interested in those programs go elsewhere. In an environment in which so many students pursue additional schooling after HS, to have different schools catering to different needs makes sense. There’s a great piece on Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts about Rowan in NJ (another regional school) that does a great job providing a certain kind of education to a certain kind of student. (And I think that they may not even offer a single philosophy class!) While this isn’t the answer for all schools or all students – especially undecided ones --, this could be the kind of differentiation that allows education to become more affordable in some cases.

@Corbett Proper clarification which was needed just in case. Thanks.

I agree we will see a few LACs adapt to survive and some law schools shutter their doors in the upcoming years.

I’ve lived in Vermont, New Hampshire and now reside in Massachusetts . Colby-Sawyer’s nursing program is well known and highly regarded.

Yeah, I agree that this is not necessarily a bad thing for Colby-Sawyer. I looked them up and their endowment is about $29 million, which is basically nothing for a college with 1,229 students. (By comparison, Colby College has a $711 million endowment; Bates College has $261 million; St. Lawrence University, a small LAC in upstate NY, has a $230 million endowment. Even Sweet Briar, which almost closed last year and has about 20% of the students Colby-Sawyer has, had $70 million in endowment as of 2015.) So they’re a tuition-dependent college. They can’t rely on their endowment if enrollment dips.

On top of that, they’re only regionally known and they already accept 75% of their applicants, meaning there’s not really a mechanism for expanding their pool of applicants/enrolled students against declining enrollment. So they have to cut operating costs in other areas, and closing two major programs with very small or nonexistent enrollments makes sense.

I sometimes wonder if the folks who think more HS kids should go down a trades path are the same ones who think LACs turning in to vocational schools is “sad”.

After all, if you think that more people should enter trades, then why shouldn’t more LAC’s turn in to vocational schools?

As you may be able to surmise, I find this development as sad as I would more people entering trades. That is, not at all.

You don’t feel sad “at all” for the English majors at C-S, @PurpleTitan ?

@marvin100, any disruptive change is sad because they affect people who were living under a certain set of assumptions. In the grand scheme of things (compared to factories closing down in one-company towns, retired coal miners losing their health benefits, war and killing as we have seen in Syria and Yemen, the slide from democracy in to autocracy, politically-motivated firings, and unjust jailings as we have seen in Turkey), a few English majors having to either switch majors or transfer barely registers. And if C-S feels like they have to make this move to survive, this had to be done at some point and some people would be affected at some point. Plus, we don’t know what accomodations C-S will make for their English majors.

But certainly, people entering a college should check beforehand to see how much financial leeway that college has.

@PurpleTitan Compared to what you listed any change pales in comparison. You’re being unrealistic. With the outlook you seem to have everything is pointless and not worthwhile, and if that is so that really doesn’t add any insight to this discussion in my opinion.