Antioch College President says school is for people who are looking for somewhere to belong
Antioch College's president Dr. Jane Fernandes has been on the job for over a year. Dr. Fernades said in an interview with WYSO that her tiny liberal arts college in Yellow Springs is a place for students who are looking for somewhere to belong. Dr. Fernandes, who is deaf, spoke to WYSO Reporter and Antioch alumnus Chris Welter with the help of an interpreter about the college's successes and challenges since re-opening in 2011.
Transcript (edited lightly for length and clarity):
Chris Welter: It's been over ten years now since the college has had students on campus and has been reopened. When the college first reopened in 2011, there was a New York Times article and they talked to a higher education consultant who said that he didn't think Antioch would survive past 2020. And it has. How do you think that Antioch has been able to get its accreditation back and then continue to to grow in these last 11 years?
Dr. Jane Fernandes: Well, I would say that it wouldn't have been possible without tremendous support and devotion of an amazing alumni and community of people who went to Antioch college and came back with a life changing experience. We're known as the college that changes lives, and the alumni's experience was so powerful that when they talked about it, they talk about it like it was yesterday, they remember every detail. When they thought Antioch was threatened, that was something intolerable, so they acted, they raised the money to reopen the college.
Chris: When most people hear about the size of of Antioch, 100 to 150 students, a lot of times they're pretty shocked, I guess. Can you talk to me a little bit about what size you think is right for a sustainable Antioch?
Dr. Fernandes: I think our goal right now is 200 students. This year, we have about 128 on campus. To meet the goal of 200, we have to work on both admissions and retention. We're very committed that any student who's qualified, should be able to be educated at Antioch. 78% of our students are Pell Grant eligible, which means they have a very high rate of need and generally that the families could not be expected to pay. We have 44% students of color, 82% [LGBTQ+] and 16% transgender students. We're the only national liberal arts college in Ohio that has a diversity rating with the U.S. News and World Report. We also have high number of first generation students. We need to put a lot of programs in place to help those students succeed. We don't want to grow too large without having a support structure there to make the students successful.
Chris: So do you think that with 200 students, Antioch can be a financially stable institution?
Dr. Fernandes: That's a big, interesting dilemma that we have been talking about a lot because our income is not derived from students, it's not derived from tuition. We do get some income derived from students, but it's not tuition money. So that is our big conundrum and partly why we're probably not going to grow large until we have figured out a new business model, which we are starting to work on now. While we're doing that, we manage our expenses very tightly, we're not like other colleges with all kinds of perks and services. We're really more of a working college. We manage expenses. We're trying various ways to diversify our revenues beyond tuition. So the Wellness Center is one example where we opened it to the Yellow Springs community and beyond. We do have a small source of revenue from memberships and things like that from the Wellness Center. So that's something we continue to think about. We're also doubling down on fundraising. Many people may not know that we are one of the few colleges where most of our revenue comes from our generous alumni. So we're going to try to broaden the base of the alumni who are part of a fundraising effort. As long as we continue to be focused on our specific population of students, which are very responsive to the kind of education we offer, I think we will continue to be challenged to develop an innovative or different business model. But I haven't hit on that yet.
Note: WYSO was started by Antioch students and was owned by the college for nearly 60 years. WYSO became independent and community owned and operated in 2019.
Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.