Whittier College Says Its Fiscal Outlook Is Brighter

Times Staff Writer

The fiscal outlook at Whittier College has brightened since December, prompting officials to scale back plans to eliminate as many as a dozen faculty positions to balance next year’s budget.

Officials attributed the college’s improved budget projections to stepped-up fund raising, an 18% increase in student applications and tighter budgeting.

Plan 2 Layoffs

Still, the college will lay off two faculty members--one each in the mathematics and drama departments--when the school year ends in June. It has eliminated three other faculty positions that were not filled. On the administrative side, six staff members were laid off last month and another seven positions, which were not filled, were eliminated from the budget.


Officials believe the college’s budget problems this year, in part, were an aftershock of the October, 1987, earthquake, which triggered a significant drop in freshman enrollment.

The campus suffered only minor damage from the quake but the surrounding area of Whittier suffered heavily and freshman class enrollment at the college dropped to 256 last September from 336 the year before, according to Admissions Director Katy Murphy.

The earthquake, said Susan Pearce, vice president for college advancement, cost the college $1 million--$500,000 to repair damage not covered by insurance and $500,000 in lost tuition from the drop in enrollment.

The relationship between the quake and enrollment, Murphy said, is best demonstrated by the drop in applications from California students who went shopping for colleges last spring, after the quake. “California students typically visit and spend more time up town,” Murphy said, referring to the commercial area of Whittier that is closest to campus and suffered the most quake damage. When they saw rubble and barriers blocking off dangerous areas, she said, high school seniors that might have attended Whittier went elsewhere.


Applications are up this spring, however, Murphy said. The college has received 940 applications, compared to 792 at the same time last year and 910 at the same time in 1987. “We are right now ahead of two years ago which (was) our largest year in 10 years (in terms of applications and admissions),” she said.

Fritz Smith, president of the Faculty Senate, said: “I think, frankly, that we were hit seriously by the earthquake and had a one-year drop (in enrollment) and now we’re back up where we were two years ago.”

Optimistic on Finances

Smith, who is also chairman of the mathematics department, served on the committee that helped decide what faculty cuts would be made. He says he doesn’t see an extremely extra heavy workload for the remaining academics and he is optimistic about finances.

“Frankly, I’m not too worried,” he said when asked to assess the college’s future financial health. “The budget we put together, if the enrollment predictions hold, we should be in very good shape next year. We simply need to push enrollment and the number of new students coming in,” he said.

Even the college’s vice president for finance and administration, Joseph E. Cardoza, who delivered the bad budget news in December, was sounding upbeat this week.

“We’ve had a really positive upswing on the admissions side,” said Cardoza, who came to Whittier from Pomona College, which is part of the Claremont Colleges. “What really was significant was the 1987 earthquake, which caused us to take a very close look at all our forecasting,” Cardoza said. “We’re not looking to (make any more cuts) right now. We believe that we have taken the appropriate action,” he said.

To balance its budget each year, Cardoza acknowledged, the college has been dipping into its $5-million reserve, which is now depleted and must be replenished, he said.


One of the reasons Whittier has been dipping into its reserves, said Pearce, the college’s fund-raising director, is because it has been making some heavy investments over the past decade. Its strong liberal arts program, which pairs unrelated classes in order to highlight possible similarities, was begun seven years ago and won the college plaudits from U.S. News and World Report, which for the last two years has named Whittier one of the top five small colleges in the country.

Whittier also took over the former Beverly School of Law, turning it from a nonaccredited institution, Pearce said, into a law school that is accredited by the American Bar Assn.

“There is a real cost to that,” she said. “In order to have accreditation, you have to have a full library. It’s a very costly procedure in terms of a curriculum, the facility and the library, so, money was spent on that.”

The board of trustees has made undergraduate enrollment at the college a priority, said Chairman Rayburn S. Dezember. A study ordered by the board found that an enrollment of 1,200 would allow the college to operate most efficiently, Dezember said. About 950 full-time students now attend Whittier.

Except for last year, when it fell to 256, the college’s freshman class has been increasing steadily over the past five years. In 1985, the class had 283 members. In 1987 there were 332, and Murphy says she is expecting at least 320 freshmen next year.

Much of Whittier’s enrollment surge is due to its good press notices, including two years of praise from U.S. News and World Report, faculty and administrators acknowledge.

“The college has been a well-kept secret for years,” Murphy said.

Both administrators and faculty, however, echoed the sentiments expressed last week by Whittier’s incoming President James L. Ash, who said Whittier faces the same set of problems encountered by every other small private college in the next five years.


Must Compete

One problem is that the number of 18-year-olds in the nation has dropped over the past decade and colleges must compete aggressively to attract students.

Murphy and Pearce acknowledged that Whittier operates with a tight budget because it devotes a higher proportion of its funds to scholarships and has a higher proportion of students receiving some sort of financial aid than other colleges. But students receiving financial aid are bringing money to the college, too, because much of the aid is from federal and state educational grants and loans, Murphy said.

Whittier also has a meager endowment, only about $16 million for a school of approximately 1,000 undergraduates. By comparison, Pomona College, with 1,400 undergraduates, has an endowment of $250 million.

“Endowment is one of our fund-raising priorities,” said Pearce, who came to Whittier last June from California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where she had worked in fund raising for 12 years.

Fund-raising appeals that went out after the layoff announcement generated a very good response from alumni donors, Pearce said. Contributions so far this year, she said, are $1.2 million ahead of those a year ago.

“Our alumni base,” she said of Whittier, “is among the most loyal I have ever seen.”