6 Insane Things You Learn When Your College Goes Bankrupt
Unless your college advertises on TV at 2 a.m., you've probably never thought of it as a place that could up and vanish one day. Colleges are institutions -- they're not supposed to just disappear like the sketchy taco joint down the street. But sometimes they do, and the implications are staggering. Sweet Briar College, a women's liberal arts school in Virginia, recently announced that it would be shutting down after its 114th year. Cracked talked to senior Kate Dobson to learn what happens when your school goes to that great NCAA division in the sky.
The Process Is Super Sketchy
We learned about the closure when our president sent out a brief email requesting our presence at a meeting. I wasn't going to bother attending, because he made it sound like a mundane matter. But I started hearing rumors, and then we saw staff crying. So either someone was conducting some very mild school terrorism -- not a shooting, but maybe a systematic insulting of haircuts -- or else some other bad news was afoot.
They ... took the Doritos out of the vending machines.
The board of directors cited "insurmountable financial challenges" as their motivation to shut down. I'd love to elaborate, but I can't because they didn't. We have an $94 million endowment, and we have no idea where it's going. Our president claimed that his board would be as transparent as possible, but they're not exactly cosplaying The Hollow Man here -- unless you mean that they left us with our metaphorical dicks in the breeze.
I'm not going to shotgun a bunch of numbers here, because talking about college is no excuse for inflicting math on you. But I will point out the media has a healthy sense of skepticism about the board's claims. Oh, and did I mention that our president was involved in a misappropriated donor funds scandal at Trinity College?
"Alright ... red, the college stays open."
It Seriously Disrupts Your Education
Luckily, some nearby schools agreed to take in Sweet Briar students, who were told that everything would transfer over so they could graduate on time. Unluckily, they were using the historical meaning of "on time." What's a year or two, in the grand scheme of the universe, right? So now a lot of juniors will graduate late, which means another year they'll have to pay for. And that won't be easy, because financial aid isn't transferring either.
"Should have recycled all my beer cans." - Every Undergrad
I have friends who are thinking about dropping out and working just so they can later afford to go back and get the degree they thought they had in the bag. It's one thing to be told that you'll have to finish your education at another school. But when those same schools demand money for the privilege of screwing you, you can't help but feel that you're getting a very different kind of education.
Your Degree Might Suddenly Become Useless
So, what happens if you have a degree from a school that no longer exists? That's not a rhetorical question -- I'm legitimately asking. We have no idea, and that's terrifying. Say you're applying for a job and the recruiter calls your school to confirm that you really were the vice treasurer of the crocheting club, only to get a Taco Bell or a car wash, or whoever gets reassigned the number. What then?
We have graduate students finishing theses that might end up with less value than the paper they're printed on. Our international students are all losing their student visas. They'll have no choice but to abandon the lives they've built for themselves here. Sophomores and freshmen can essentially attempt to transfer to any college they want, but they've been so busy looking for a place where they can attend class that they haven't had time to ... attend class. And they're either going to have to take on larger student loans, or drop out for a couple of years and really stretch those coffee shop tips.
"Thanks. That should get me five minutes of an online lecture at the University of Phoenix."
So we're either sacrificing a year or two of our lives to rearrange our finances, getting kicked out of the country, or possibly receiving a degree that means about as much as a Federal Booty Inspector badge.
It Harms The Whole Community
It's not just the students; the professors are getting screwed, too. They've built lives here, sent their children to local schools and become connected to the community. And now they either have to pull up roots, or see if tenure transfers over to the local Burger King. Speaking of the community, they're the real losers here. There's a reason the county took Sweet Briar's board of directors to court -- if you're a college town, losing the first half of your name can be devastating.
"Tin, Texas has been a wasteland since they dropped the 'Aus.'"
As anyone who lives in Detroit knows, stagnation can snowball. With the student body vanishing, how do you think local businesses will fare? There's a Domino's that just opened, and now they're already looking at closing, because college students get roughly 90 percent of their nutrition from crappy pizza -- how would they make up for the drop in customers? Admittedly, residents can always just pour tomato sauce on cardboard at home, but it's a symbolic loss.
It Brings People Together ... For Better Or Worse
We had the Save Sweet Briar campaign up and running in days. Alumnae I'd never heard of from places I'd never been are talking to us, sending us food, and just generally being amazing people. Seeing hundreds of students and graduates come together to fight for their school has been a wonderful and humbling experience.
Seriously, 13 million and counting.
But elsewhere, the campus has basically gone chaotic neutral. I'm not saying that packs of feral coeds are devouring everybody left outside after sundown, but people are stealing shit from shower baskets, racking up underage drinking violations, and tearing apart buildings trying to get a piece of memorabilia. I completely understand the impulse -- this place took years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars of your money; the least you deserve is some copper wiring and a mascot head -- but pillaging should be reserved for the post-graduation party, or at the very least, a really unexpected win by the local sports team.
"Uh, didn't we lose?"
"Oh, I don't even watch sports."
It's Not Just A Women's College Issue
To the average person, the whole Sweet Briar controversy is nothing but a bunch of snooty rich girls acting all emotional because our finishing school is closing. Here are a few of the comments I saw right after the announcement, from some folks who could have used a college education of their own.
"Locker room interviews aren't the same if you have to wait till people are out of the locker room!"
Like all women's colleges, there's the idea that Sweet Briar is just a pretty resort where rich girls can spend four years trying to land a husband. Boys are nice, and I'm happy to attend their parties, but we're primarily here to learn in a safe environment. And places where we can do that are dying out: In 1960 there were 230 women's colleges in the United States and Canada -- now there are 47.
But don't think of it as a women's college issue. This is about specialized schools, period: Six of the States' 60 dental schools collapsed in the 1980s, and now it's looking like law schools could be next. Even if you aren't a dentist, a lawyer, or a woman, this is a problem you might have to deal with in the near future: Total college enrollment dropped by half-a-million from 2012 to 2013. Sweet Briar won't be the last college to close. And my friends and I won't be the last bunch of graduates wondering if we just paid tens of thousands of dollars for some funny-looking paper.
"If I wanted that, I would have been a philosophy major."
For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Realities of Life When Your Brain Wants You to Murder and Kids Want to Finger Your Butt: Adventures In Teaching Abroad.
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