By Alyssa Pressler
Salem College is on its way to meeting a $10 million fundraising goal needed to get the historic women’s school out of financial probation and on a growth path. More than 2,500 donors have pledged $8 million since June 2018, when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges directed the college to improve its finances or risk losing its accreditation. The 12-month probation requires the college to pass a balanced budget, reduce its overall debt and increase its enrollment, interim President Sandy Doran says.
Started by Moravians as a girls school in 1772 in the historic Old Salem community, Salem began awarding college diplomas in 1890. Under presidents Lorraine Sterritt (2014-18) and Susan Pauly (2006-14), Salem bought nearby property and added buildings for the first time in decades, including a student center, residence hall and tennis center, in hopes of attracting more students.
Revenue didn’t meet projections, however, leaving the college with a $26 million debt that perplexed campus leaders and caught the accreditation agency’s eye.
With Doran taking the top post last year, Salem is on track for a balanced budget that is about $2 million less than in previous years. Enrollment is expected to increase about 10% this year from the 939 students enrolled as of September.
“We are in a much stronger position today than when [the accrediting group] first came to us,” says Doran, whose previous work included stints at the New England Board of Higher Education and the for-profit American College of Education, an Indianapolis-based company that offers exclusively online courses.
Salem hired Doran under a two-and-a-half year contract to engineer a turnaround. Her work has included implementing a new strategic plan, selling unused property and introducing programming to increase the college’s popularity, she says.
Salem’s financial pressures are akin to Greensboro’s Bennett College, an all-female historically black institution that raised more than $8.2 million in February. That surpassed a $5 million target needed to maintain its accreditation, which is typically required to participate in federal student-loan programs.
Salem hopes to use the $10 million to pay off debt and support new programs, including a master’s in education leadership, which kicked off in January. BB&T’s charitable foundation pledged $2 million in October.
Over the next few years, Doran is hoping to create more community partnerships to raise enrollment and reduce operating costs. Tuition is slated to increase 3% to $43,284 in the 2019-20 school year, though many students receive financial aid.
Great relationships with Winston-Salem businesses and groups have sparked the improving outlook, Doran says. About 50% of graduates remain in the immediate area. “We have over 4,000 alums in the Triad area who went to Salem College, stayed here, built a home here, raised their families here, worked in industry and commerce here, and continue to be fully engaged.”