Brewton-Parker places itself on 'academic diet'

South Georgia college closes two campuses, reduces majors

By Joe Westbury, Managing Editor

Published: December 17, 2009

MOUNT VERNON — Citing fallout from a depressed economy, Brewton-Parker College trustees have placed the college on an “academic diet” to reign in costs and reduce overhead.

Kelly Vickers/BPC

Misael Alvarado of Okeechobee, Fla., left, and Nastashia Minto of Boston, Ga., enjoy a warm December afternoon on the Brewton-Parker Campus in Mount Vernon. The two are among 1,049 students currently enrolled on the south Georgia campus.

The cutbacks will affect both programs and personnel, says President David Smith, but will position the college for long-term survival. Some of the measures were implemented in October and others are being rolled out as the year ends. Among those changes:

• Academic majors will be reduced by 50 percent at the close of the current semester on Dec.19;

• Most of its external campuses will be closed, including Liberty County in Hinesville and Norman Park. The Newnan location will be kept.

For several years the college has been working toward offering the programs in those settings in an online or partially-online format. This fall it reached the point that enough coursework was offered online to make the physical external sites unnecessary.

“Like every other institution in America, BPC’s financial situation has significantly eroded over the last 12 months,” Smith said. As a result, “our trustees are putting us on an academic diet to make us healthier and viable for generations to come.”

The reduction in majors from 39 to 18 only affects about 116 students, or 10 percent, due to low participation in those fields, Smith said. Rumors that the college was shuttering its highly popular music department were untrue but were fueled by that area taking the brunt of the cutbacks. While the music major will be eliminated, the college will retain a church music program.

Students in discontinued majors can complete those degrees through a combination of regular courses, independent study, course substitution with the recommendation of the advisor, online courses, and transient and transfer work. Discontinuance of the impacted majors means the college will not accept new students in those programs.

Music faculty will be reduced to two and the music program will be placed within the Division of Fine Arts and Letters, from which it came. The Bachelor of Music degree will be eliminated due to the declining number of students enrolled in that major. The church music degree will either be housed in a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Ministry program.

“First, the Board of Trustees did not vote to close down the music program. In fact, they specifically stated that two fulltime faculty members would be retained and that a church music program would also be retained.

“While this is a huge reduction in the full-service division of music that currently exists, it assures that a music program will continue at BPC. Perhaps in better financial circumstances in the future, we will be able to restore some of the other music programs as well. That is our hope and prayer,” Smith said.


‘Grown too complex’

“We have simply grown too complex and have attempted to serve too diverse an audience for a small school in our locale,” he continued. “Our student-to-teacher ratio was much too small to financially sustain the college. In many instances we retained a Bachelor of Arts program while discontinuing a Bachelor of Science, or vice versa.”

Kelly Vickers/BPC

Victoria Frazier, Misael Alvarado, and Nathaniel New discuss the upcoming Christmas break from their studies at Brewton-Parker. The fall semester will end Dec. 19 and dorms will reopen Jan. 10. Frazier is a native of Sandersville, Alvardo is from Okeechobee, Fla, and New’s hometown is Rex.

Smith said well over half of the students whose majors were reduced can find similar programs in other majors by which they can still attain their academic goals at Brewton-Parker.

“Unfortunately, that is not the case with some of our music students.”

Smith, a frequent donor and ardent supporter of the music program, stated the harsh reality that, “by its essence, music does not pay for its program.”

Smith said the Board of Trustees made their decision based upon a study by a committee equally appointed by the Board Chair, the Chair of the Faculty Assembly, and himself. The committee’s responsibility was to build a formula to describe financial efficiency and apply it to all 39 majors, then rank the majors from most efficient to the least.

The Board received the report and then determined its response.

“Their job is to enact policy and legislation; mine is to implement it. While I may not agree with every decision that the Board of Trustees makes, I know that they acted in the best interests of the college, as they could best determine.”

Smith acknowledged the decision to reduce the music program “is terribly painful to everyone, and that all of those involved in the decision and its implementation are simply trying to steer the college through some very dangerous currents at this time.”


Bright spots for the college

The closing of the sites in Hinesville and Norman Park will relieve the college of the costs of the campuses while retaining “significant portions of our students through online programs,” a communication to alumni and friends stated.

The Division of Education faculty at those locations have been transitioning their curriculum into a hybrid program using online, joint research, and classroom programming. Almost all of the education students at those campuses will continue to study with the college.

Brewton-Parker has had a presence in Liberty County since the late 1980s; its current campus was constructed in 1999. Enrollment, which at its height was 350, began to dwindle after 9/11 and is now around 150.

In addition to eliminating those costs, the Liberty County Board of Education recently purchased the Hinesville campus. The sale will be used to pay out indebtedness and replenish cash reserves.

The college also received the largest gift in its history – $3.5 million from the estate of Lyons trustee Bill Browns. The funds will be used to establish an endowed scholarship for needy students.

Smith also noted several other bright spots for the college. Retention of students for the spring semester looks good and transfer rates are not as high as expected in light of the restructuring.

Progress on the renovation of the largest women’s residence facility on the Mount Vernon campus, McAllister Hall, is also on schedule. West Wing residents recently moved into the East Wing and renovation of the West Wing should be completed in the spring. Funds for the project were raised “entirely by patrons and benefactors who are fully confident in the future of the college,” he added.