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Colby-Sawyer Announces Plans to Restructure, Lay Off 18 Employees

  • Susan Stuebner during an interview on Oct. 6, 2016, Steubner is the new president at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 06, 2016

New London — Facing a projected operating loss of $2.6 million for the current year, Colby-Sawyer College announced on Tuesday that it would “restructure” and lay off 18 employees.

“These are not easy times, and we’re sorry to see some of our colleagues go,” Colby-Sawyer President Sue Stuebner said in a telephone interview.

Seven faculty members and 11 staffers on Monday received notice of intent to separate, according to a Tuesday announcement from Stuebner. Another 11 workers learned that Colby-Sawyer will “modify” their hours, and more than a dozen other employees who already were departing will not be replaced.

Stuebner attributed the current year’s operating loss to recent fluctuation in Colby-Sawyer’s enrollment, which went from about 1,500 four years ago to 1,100 this year.

The current year’s operating loss followed two years of $2 million in losses each.

In her announcement, the recently appointed college president said that school officials had found $410,000 in savings in contracted services, health insurance and other administrative costs.

The school’s online faculty directory lists about 75 members, putting the loss of teachers at a little under 10 percent.

Stuebner said the impetus for the cuts had been a strategic assessment that she undertook when she arrived this summer.

Colby-Sawyer, a private school founded in 1837 and known for its nursing program, had a $38.4 million endowment at the end of fiscal year 2015, according to its website.

The school is “very tuition-dependent,” Stuebner said, and so enrollment has a large effect on its financial health.

With smaller numbers of graduates expected from the region’s high schools in coming years, New England and the greater Northeast have become a “very competitive marketplace” for students, she said.

“Institutions with our kind of profile are expected to do a fair amount of tuition discounting in order to attract students,” Stuebner said, adding later, “the competition for fewer students is pretty significant.”

The amount of tuition discounting that Colby-Sawyer needed to stay in the 1,500 area had made revenues unpredictable, she said, and likewise for the school’s overall finances.

A few years ago, before Stuebner came to the school, administrators offered a voluntary departure incentive for faculty and staff, she said.

As part of her temperature-taking exercise, Stuebner engaged a national educational consultant to calculate Colby-Sawyer’s optimal enrollment, given its annual application numbers and other variables.

That figure, she said, is about 1,100 students.

Stuebner added that she expects Colby-Sawyer to thrive on that base.

“I’m very confident in the future of this institution,” she said. “Part of the work that I get to do as president is I’ve spent nearly half my time off campus. Meeting alumni and (seeing) what people are doing with their Colby-Sawyer degrees is really impressive, and what people are doing in the classroom and the quality of their education is really strong.”

The college’s Tuesday news release did not say where the cuts had been concentrated. Stuebner did not offer specifics in the interview, but said that the layoffs had been spread out over multiple departments.

Colby-Sawyer College, with New London Hospital, is among the 4,400-resident town’s largest employers.

But Selectboard Chairman G. William Helm Jr., a former Colby-Sawyer trustee, said he didn’t expect the cuts, although “unfortunate,” to have much of an effect on the town.

The larger effect on New London has come through the college’s decreased enrollment, Helm said. “You’ve had 400 less students shopping on Main Street — buying less donuts, and so on.”

Helm complimented Stuebner, saying she had been “consistent” and “transparent” since her arrival in July.

“In some sense this is not a surprise,” he said. “It sounds fairly significant, but it sounds like she’s doing the best she can do.”

Sophomore class President William Hyland echoed that sentiment, saying the new president had been open about the school’s direction and financial needs.

The news hasn’t yet sunk in with students, who are studying for finals during their last week of term, he said.

“Ultimately,” Hyland said, “I trust our administration. They haven’t given me any reason to not do so, and I’m confident in the school and I always have been.”

The climate among faculty members was more difficult to assess on Tuesday. Several professors forwarded requests for comment to the school’s spokeswoman, who provided a statement from William F. “Bill” Spear, an associate professor of business administration.

“Colby-Sawyer College has been around for a very long time,” Spear wrote. “We lost valued colleagues yesterday, but the college is still strong and will only grow stronger. With new leadership in place, the college appears positioned for another 179 years. The impression of faculty and staff with whom I have spoken is that Sue Stuebner is a gift to Colby-Sawyer. Beyond her kind and caring style, she is a strategic thinker who quickly addresses root causes with transparent action. She is trusted and will be followed by all of us on a path to great success.

“My wife, who also works at the college, and I are both proud that our daughter graduated from Colby-Sawyer, and we’d love to see our still-young grandchildren graduate from this special institution someday.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.