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majority of our endowment income goes back to the students,
and that single element makes our financial condition very
different frommost other colleges.”
This year, Berea will spend about $22,000 for each student
at the college. As a comparison, Shinn notes that colleges
such as Bowdoin or Swarthmore spend between $45,000 and
$65,000 per student per year while charging approximately
$35,000 for tuition.
“The free tuition programmeans that we can’t spend
as much as these other colleges,” he said. “It means that
our salaries are not as high as some others, that our faculty
members teachmore classes. People always ask, ‘Why not
charge tuition and then you can have what these other colleges
have?’ The answer is simple. We have a passion about serving
these bright, capable students who otherwise could not afford a
quality education. If we charged tuition, Berea would no longer
be Berea.”
The policy of admitting only low-income students (this
year the maximum allowable income for a family of three is
$47,000, and the college trustees are considering a proposal
to lower it still further), and encouraging students into a life
of public service rather than, say, investment banking, has
created other financial obstacles for the college. Namely, it
has eliminated the class of wealthy alumni that constitutes the
primary source of donations for most colleges.
What’s worse, if a Berea alumdoes become wealthy, or even
comfortably middle-class, his or her children cannot attend
Berea. The family’s income will make them ineligible.
“Let’s say the circumstances force us to be creative,” said
Ron Smith, vice president for finance. “We raise money from
people we call ‘friends of Berea,’ people who are not alumni
but relate to the story of Berea. We find that many people will
connect with the mission of the college, and we look for those
people constantly.”
The creative fundraising has led Berea to employ some
unorthodox methods, at least for a college.
Direct mail is used frequently. The college
purchases lists of likely supporters and also
develops lists of its own. Next to the campus,
for example, the college operates a number
of retail craft stores and even a hotel—the
Boone Tavern Hotel, which is listed on the
National Register of Historic Places—and
regularly harvests names and addresses of
customers at those establishments.
Smith tells the story of a mysterious $7
million bequest that came to the college
from the estate of a couple from Iowa. No
one could figure out why. Eventually, college
officials discovered that the couple had stayed at the Boone
Tavern Hotel several years earlier. It was the only connection
they ever found between the couple and the college.
Bill Laramee, vice president for alumni and college
relations, said Berea almost certainly will succeed in reaching
its most recent $150 million fundraising goal. “In this
campaign, the largest gift was $1.5 million,” he said. “We’re told
there is no way we should raise $150 million with only one gift
of $1.5 million, but we will do it. We do it by collecting many,
many smaller donations.”
Smith offers one more reason for the impressive size of
Berea’s endowment. “It comes fromdiscipline,” he said. “When
we raise money for the endowment, it stays in the endowment.
We don’t spend it on a nice new building or something like
that. We invest the money and use the income to provide a
quality education.”
As for the future, Berea is likely to remainmuch the
same as today, except more so. On the wall of virtually every
administrator’s office at the college hangs a framed copy of the
Great Commitments. At Berea these commitments are studied,
like the Torah in a synagogue, for guidance in all decisions.
For example, some administrators expressed concerns
in recent years that the college’s commitment to African
American students had slipped below the level implied in
the Great Commitments. Extensive discussions ensued, and
a decision was made to rectify the situation. This fall the
percentage of African Americans in the freshman class will be
double that of previous years—about 25 percent.
Joe Bagnoli, associate provost for enrollment management,
noted that the African American population in Appalachia
amounts to only three percent. “So our student population
already had a higher percentage of African Americans than the
region we serve,” he said. “But that wasn’t the point. The college
hadmade an early commitment to an interracial community
on campus, and we felt we had strayed somewhat from that
principle. So nowwe are returning to it.”
Otherwise, Berea likely will retain its timeless quality. This
is not a campus where parking garages and bio-labs pop up
overnight. The outside world of sharp elbows and upscale
striving hardly seems to intrude, andmost here seem to like it
that way.
“I want it to stay just the way it is,” said Jami Garth, the
junior. “Most of us are from small towns, not the big city, and
Berea is the kind of place we need. When I graduate, I will
think of Berea still being here, helping other kids the way it
Robert A. Jones is a former reporter and columnist for the
Angeles Times
Berea College “is a trust for people of the region,” says
Academic Provost Dave Porter. “When you come here, you just
get caught up in the whole idea of the place.”
Berea College will
accept only students
from the lowest
economic strata,
most of them from
backward pockets of