Judson College trustees launch aggressive fundraising campaign

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Judson College is a private undergraduate institution committed to excellence in the arts, sciences and professional studies. The college offers a residential undergraduate education for women and selected online undergraduate programs for men and women in over 20 areas of study. (Judson College)

MARION, Ala. – After an extensive review process during the past six months, the board of trustees of Judson College committed to an aggressive fundraising effort to save the College.

Following a discussion of the college’s proposed budget during a special-called board of trustees meeting, Judson President W. Mark Tew proposed a 30-day commitment campaign to raise $5 million in unrestricted funds by April 2.  The motion to proceed with the campaign passed unanimously Wednesday.

Joan Newman, chair of the trustees and Class of ‘73 alumna, said, “Today the Board demonstrated their commitment to sustaining a future for Judson. The financial goal is lofty, but the future of Judson College is worthy.”

Tew shared the announcement with the campus community immediately following the board meeting. “The board was unanimous in seeking to identify donors to support the college in the coming academic year. While this is a monumental challenge, I would like to remind all of you that we serve a great God. Prudent financial responsibility dictates that we have firm commitments from our donors before we can proceed into the next academic year. Accordingly, the trustees will meet on April 2 to review the college’s progress and make a determination about its future.”

On Dec. 15, 2020, Tew announced that, in order to open in January 2021, Judson would need $500,000 in unrestricted cash donations and $1 million in unrestricted commitments of gifts. The Judson community, alumnae, and friends mobilized quickly to secure the needed funds. Just 13 days after the announcement and 5 days before the Dec. 31 deadline, the Judson community had secured the $500,000 in cash donations and was halfway to the commitment goal of an additional $1 million. Of the total $1.5 million eventually given, almost half was provided by alumnae. The Board of Trustees convened Dec. 31, 2020 and approved moving forward with the spring 2021 semester.

In December, the board also approved the engagement of the services of Fuller Higher Ed Solutions to research the college’s changing markets and to explore potential avenues ahead. The group conducted a review of the college’s financial situation and met with focus groups of students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and board members during the first few weeks of 2021.

Fuller’s findings indicated two choices for Judson — to close “with dignity” or to “invest in turnaround.” The board received the report Feb. 19 and held meetings Feb. 22, Feb. 26 and March 3 to discuss the findings.

With today’s decision to see what is possible in the next 30 days, a review of the proposed 2021–2022 budget was put on hold by the board. The College’s fiscal year ends May 31.

In recent years, Judson has operated on a roughly $9 million annual budget with 76 employees. Most expenses go to academics, followed closely by care of the campus. Current enrollment stands at 145 students (designated as traditional full- or part-time), down from 253 in 2019 and 161 in 2020. Administrators anticipated continued decline going into 2021 because of restrictions on recruiting activities with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as concern over the future of the College.

While Judson does have a board-operated endowment of $9.8 million, and another more than $6 million in endowment funds through The Baptist Foundation of Alabama, almost all of these funds are donor-restricted for student scholarships. Judson uses earnings from the endowments as part of its annual income, along with students’ tuition and fees, about $1 million provided from gifts through the Cooperative Program, and $500,000 to $800,000 from donations. Judson also received more than $2.4 million through federal and state pandemic-related relief.

Expenses were trimmed going into the spring semester by eliminating the associate in nursing program, restructuring the Summer Term, reducing personnel, and holding off on campus repairs and upgrades, but the $8.5 million budget remains out of balance.

According to Fuller’s estimates, Judson would need $40 million to truly turn things around, even if that amount came in at $8 million a year for the next five years. The breakdown of the money needed, as outlined by Fuller, would be:

  • $5 million to close the operating deficit
  • $2 million to revive buildings and infrastructure
  • $1 million for seed money for revamping and rebranding.

“While the alumnae base and other supporters have responded generously to the financial challenges with their giving, and the focus group feedback reflected a deep level of ‘all in’ support, the path to a turnaround is daunting and full of difficult decisions,” the report reads.

“During this project, many voices of faithful, Godly, women were heard in support of the college,” the Fuller report states. “These voices must continue to lift prayers for wisdom, courage, and for the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills to sell a few of them on Judson’s behalf so the turnaround can begin and succeed…We believe there is something unique and valuable at Judson, worth the investment, especially after nearly two centuries of educating Christian women as leaders and key contributors to their professions, physical and faith communities, and family situations,” the report states. “Overcoming [the challenges outlined in the report] will require focus, discipline, and an ongoing infusion of cash through donor support and other means to do the turnaround necessary for Judson to move from surviving to thriving.”

Judson College is a private undergraduate institution committed to excellence in the arts, sciences, and professional studies. The college offers a residential undergraduate education for women and selected online undergraduate programs for men and women in over 20 areas of study. Affiliated with the Alabama Baptist Convention, the Judson campus community encourages each student to find ways that knowledge and faith in God can work together to guide her in a life of purpose. Founded in 1838, Judson College is located in Marion, Alabama. For more information about Judson College, visit www.judson.edu.