Hampshire College sees decline in enrollment, problems continue


Since announcing their plans to seek a strategic merger with another institution in January 2019, Hampshire College has grappled with serious internal issues. Hampshire’s dire financial situation sparked conversations about whether or not to admit a new class in Fall 2019. It also caused extensive layoffs and, eventually, the resignation of the newly appointed President Miriam Nelson. Despite a tumultuous and unstable spring semester, Hampshire’s financial situation now appears to be slowly improving. 

After careful consideration, Hampshire’s Board of Trustees decided in February to admit new students this academic year. The fall 2019 class is limited, however. It was restricted to early decision applicants and students who had previously deferred entry. Because of this, the class is comprised of only 15 students. The 2018 incoming class included 290 students, constituting a 95 percent decrease in enrollment. 

Hampshire also saw a significant decrease in faculty and staff numbers this fall. MassLive reported that in April, the institution announced that 58 of its faculty were retiring or planning to otherwise reduce their roles this academic year. Hampshire also reported that contracts were not renewed for a number of its visiting faculty at the end of the spring semester. According to John Courtmanche, Hampshire’s Executive Director of Communications and Media, all faculty moves were voluntary. For students, however, the change will be significant. According to Courtmanche, there will only be 73 faculty members available to students as professors and advisors this semester, down from 114 last year.

Hampshire also reported that 24 of its general staff members and nine of its administrative staff have been laid off as of April of this year. According to MassLive, at the beginning of 2019, Hampshire employed close to 400 people, including 150 faculty members and 250 staff. 

Along with the limited incoming freshman class, Hampshire also welcomed its eighth president, Edward Wingenbach, this fall. Former President Nelson, who had announced the decision to seek out a strategic partner in January, resigned in April of this year amid protests from students, alumni and Five College faculty. This ended the search for an institutional merger. Interim President Ken Rosenthal filled her position until July, when the school announced the unanimous appointment of Wingenbach by the Hampshire Board of Trustees. 

According to Hampshire’s website, Wingenbach has spent the last six months serving as acting president of Ripon College, a liberal arts college in Wisconsin with an enrollment of only 756 students in 2017. He has also previously worked as an administrator and professor of political science at the University of Redlands. 

In a statement released alongside the announcement of his appointment, Wingenbach offered words of encouragement and confidence in Hampshire’s future. “I see my charge as helping to reinvigorate [Hampshire’s] proud legacy of innovation, because its example is too important and there are too many students who need and want its high-impact, individualized, student-driven education,” Wingenbach said. 

On Sept. 3, Wingenbach gave his first campus-wide address. The speech, which featured heavy themes of resilience, relevance and optimism, concluded with resounding confidence. 

“I believe in Hampshire College, I believe our society needs Hampshire College now more than it ever has,” Wingenbach said. “And I came here to do this epic work with you.” 

Hampshire is reportedly ramping up its recruitment in preparation to enroll a larger incoming class in the fall of 2020.