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college in the south in 2003, the eighth time the college was so
rated. In these rankings, Berea generally has been applauded for
the quality of its undergraduate teaching and its commitment
to the welfare of its students.
Behind this success lies the weight of the college’s $800
million endowment and an improbable financial machine.
Over the past two decades, Berea has emerged as one of the
premier fundraising institutions in higher education.The size of
its endowment puts it far ahead of many larger institutions, and
the college currently is concluding a $150million campaign to
augment the fund.
In addition, the college separately raises $4million a year
to provide additional funds for ongoing operations.This
stellar performance has been the hallmark of the presidency
of Shinn, a former
religion scholar who
now travels almost half
the year on fundraising
forays throughout the
nation. During Shinn’s
presidency, which began
in 1994, the endowment
has grown by nearly half
a billion dollars.
The growing wealth
has allowed Berea to add
new programs, increase
salaries, and renovate
some of the college’s 19th-century buildings with advanced
electronics andmaintenance systems. In addition, the college
now equips its incoming students with laptop computers.
“Berea has had a remarkable recent history,” said a former
higher education official in Kentucky who asked not to be
identified. “The college has always been identified with the
poor, but the fact is that Berea is not a poor institution anymore.
They have joined the haves and departed from the have-nots.”
Shinn and other college officials acknowledge their
success, but they rigorously dispute the notion that Berea has
arrived at fat city. First and foremost, they argue that Berea’s
endowment—as opposed to those of other colleges—is used
largely to pay for the free tuition program.
“We refer to the endowment as the tuition fund, and that’s
what it is,” said Shinn. “When other colleges charge tuition,
they can use their endowment income to hire new faculty, to
construct new buildings, or whatever else. We cannot.The great
A student works in the college garden. Berea students pay no tuition but work ten to
15 hours a week in “labor positions.”
“Sometimes I think
of it as the Berea
bubble, a protected
world that has its
own rules.”
— Berea student
Andrew Hartl
Berea College
July 2007
National CrossTalk
visited Berea College in 2004,
we reported that the college was engaged in a campaign to
augment its $800 million endowment by $150 million. “That’s
all over—our endowment is not what it was,” said Communications
Manager Jay Buckner. “It is nowmore than a billion dollars.”
Buckner hastened to add that the fund is dedicated to a very specific
purpose. “We have a pretty conservative policy about how to spend that
money,” he said. “This is very expensive. We’re providing free education
to 1,500 students.”
Berea’s enrollment has not changed, although the college is turning
away more applicants than before. “Our enrollment has been capped at
1,500,” Buckner explained. “Large enrollments don’t help our bottom
line at all, since we do not charge tuition.”
There have been some significant renovation projects in recent
years, including some geared toward giving the campus a smaller
“ecological footprint.” For instance, many of the buildings now have
systems to collect rainwater. “It hits the roof and drains into a cistern,”
Buckner said. “That water is then reused. We are doing a lot on the
sustainability front.”
Berea College, like the City of Berea, is still “dry” with regard to
alcohol, although there is
currently a resolution to
make the city “moist,” which
would allow the sale and
consumption of alcohol
under certain circumstances.
It is not clear how this might
affect campus policy.
First-year students
still receive free laptop
computers, and they get
another one when they
become juniors. The
students still work in a “labor position” ten to 15 hours per week,
although it is a common misconception to imagine that they all work
in areas such as broomcraft or wrought iron. “Here in the Public
Relations office, for instance, I’ve got seven students working for me,
doing everything from press releases to professional quality videos,”
Buckner explained.
Although Berea’s endowment has grown, costs have increased as
well. The college now spends more than $23,000 per student, per year.
So, according to Buckner, fundraising continues apace. “It’s still full
steam ahead,” he said.
—Todd Sallo
Berea’s enrollment of
1,500 students has
not changed, although
the college is turning
away more applicants
than before.