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New England College squeezed by a record incoming class – which is a good thing

  • Tatum Santos, 18, of Barrington holds up photos of herself with her pup, Poppy, to her friend and roommate Anastacia Dailey, 18, of Newmarket as the two move into their dorm room in Lewin House at New England College in Henniker on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. The building was converted back into a residence hall after decades of use as office space to accommodate a record number of new students. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Anastacia Dailey, 18, of Newmarket decorates her dorm room in Lewin House at New England College in Henniker on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. The building was converted back into a residence hall after decades of use as office space to accommodate a record number of new students. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Two of the buildings converted back into residence halls after decades of use as office space are seen at New England College in Henniker on Friday. Changes were made to accommodate a record number of new students at the school this year. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Tatum Santos, 18, of Barrington moves into her dorm room in Lewis House at New England College in Henniker on Friday. The building was converted back into a residence hall after decades of use as office space to accommodate a record number of new students. ELIZABETH FRANTZ photos / Monitor staff

  • A “welcome new students” sign is seen outside the Simon Center at New England College in Henniker.

  • Tatum Santos, 18, of Barrington moves into her dorm room in Lewin House at New England College in Henniker on Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. The building was converted back into a residence hall after decades of use as office space to accommodate a record number of new students. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)



Monitor staff
Friday, August 25, 2017

The long-range growth plan at New England College got more of a boost this year than many expected, with the largest-ever incoming class forcing the Henniker school to turn some offices into dorms.

More than 490 incoming freshman and transfers began arriving Friday at the college – well over recent figures of roughly 350 new students each fall.

“We knew back in May we’d have close to 500, and we knew we had to find about 100 additional beds,” said Michelle Perkins, president of the four-year liberal arts college.

Some singles were turned into doubles and doubles into triples, she said, and several small buildings on campus that had once been residence halls before being converted into offices were converted back into residences.

“Fortunately, they still had the bathrooms, showers – that made it easier,” said Perkins.

Despite the squeeze, this influx is good news for New England College, which is coping with a slow decline in its target market of graduating seniors throughout the Northeast. This demographic decline is particularly difficult for smaller liberal arts colleges, which are heavily dependent on tuition income.

Many small colleges throughout New England are trying to cope with this demographic shift by dropping majors to differentiate themselves, and often by trying to grow their enrollment. They want to avoid the example of the Chester., school that was long known as White Pines College, which went bankrupt in 2010 after 65 years.

Last year NEC had about 900 undergraduates on campus, compared to about 600 a decade ago, and its long-term goal is to boost that number to 1,500, a figure based both on finances, facilities on surveys asking people what size they thought would best suit the campus.

Perkins attributed this year’s success to a number of factors, including more refined marketing not just in the core area of the Northeast but elsewhere – incoming students are from about half the states, and about 20 are international students. She said recent improvements to school facilities helps lure students, especially the $9.5 million John Lyons Center, a 19,000-square foot academic and student center that was the first new building constructed on campus since 2001. NEC is close to building a 350-seat theater, a multi-million-dollar Rosamond Page Putnam Center for the Performing Arts, and has plans for a new athletic facility to aid its many NCAA Division III teams.

About 200 of the incoming freshmen are athletes that were recruited, Perkins said.

Most students at NEC get some form of financial aid – relatively few pay the full cost of $35,858 in tuition, plus fees, room and board that can raise the total to $52,428.

Such aid squeezes the finances of small schools, but Perkins said that the college’s total net assets grew by $800,000 last year.

“Even though we are generous to our students, are conscious of what families pay, it’s possible to do that and be financially comfortable at the same time,” she said.

In recent years NEC, like many schools, has also boosted the number of graduate students, who receive less aid than undergraduates. It has also expanded into the relatively lucrative world of online-only education for undergraduates and graduate students. Such remote students now outnumber students taking classes in Henniker – about 1,400 were paying tuition last year.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)