Why is St. Mary’s College facing a projected admissions shortfall of 150 incoming freshman? Considering that is roughly 1/3 of the freshman class it is a staggering number. Faced with a potential loss of $3.5 million in lost tuition the College’s board of trustees opted not to renew President Joseph R. Urgo’s contract, which expires at the end of June. Urgo has been President since 2010.
St. Mary’s positions itself as “The Public Honors College” of Maryland. According to its website, “We are one of only two public honors colleges in the nation and we are proud to offer a private school education at public school cost.” Critics of the College have pointed out that St. Mary’s is one of the most expensive public college’s in the nation (it has the 5th highest tuition at $14,865 for a commuter student, while on campus tuition, room and board is $26,500).
Ironically, the number of applicants had increased for the upcoming academic year, but less than a quarter of those accepted opted to attend the college. The larger question is why? Does it have to do with an overall lack of financial aid, the isolated location in Southern Maryland or is this a wake-up call to those charged with leading small liberal arts institutions?
I had the pleasure of spending a day at St. Mary’s two years ago as our oldest daughter was conducting her college search. The campus had the look and feel of a small private liberal arts school. We had an opportunity to meet the dynamic Director of Admissions, who was forced out by Urgo nearly a year ago (perhaps that was part of the current problem) and heard President Urgo address us as parents. He certainly seemed like a decent chap, but clearly something has gone very wrong.
As a marketer I can’t help but wonder if the school failed to clearly articulate its value proposition to potential students and parents. Did it somehow stray from its brand promise and lose sight of its mission or has the school simply priced itself out of its market?
Jonathan Oleisky is President of Kalix Communications