May 23, 2018

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE, GET-WOKE-GO-BROKE EDITION: Rough Social Justice at Evergreen State: The Washington college’s enrollment plummets as even the left sours on protest-mob politics.

Here’s the math behind an academic hemorrhage: Between 500 and 600 fewer students will attend Evergreen State College next fall than in 2017, according to internal estimates. That means projected full-time enrollment is down as much as 17% from 3,500 last fall. When President George Bridges saw an internal email outlining these numbers, his impulse was to get the public-relations department to finesse them. Otherwise, he wrote, they “might end up appearing elsewhere in ways that will be used against us.”

Mr. Bridges has himself to blame. Nationwide, after administrators have capitulated to disruptive student activists, colleges have lost the support of donors, alumni, parents and prospective students. If there was one school you’d expect to defy this trend, it would be Evergreen, in Olympia, Wash. Founded in 1967, the college is proudly to the left of Berkeley and Middlebury. Its motto is literally “let it all hang out”—omnia extares—and radical activism has always been part of the pitch. But new records show that Evergreen hasn’t been spared the backlash that has plagued schools like the University of Missouri. This time, it’s coming from the left.

Applications for fall 2018 are down 20%. Sandra Kaiser, Evergreen’s vice president for college relations, claims the low application and enrollment numbers may not be as bad as they look because many students commit to Evergreen “at the last moment.” She added that “we normally expect enrollment to decline in a full-employment economy,” given that working adults, veterans and community-college transfers account for about half the student body.

At least someone is sick of all the winning. But an independent report on the protests, commissioned by Evergreen last October, reached a different conclusion. Published in April, it said that the declines in applications and enrollment were indeed “understood to be at least in part the result of the disruptions of last spring.” Moreover, current students were fleeing. Retention rates had long been “relatively stable,” the report said, but after the protests, undergraduate retention “reached its lowest performance in over a decade.” Only 60% of first-time, first-year students who enrolled last fall stayed through the end of the school year, “a full 8 percentage points below the prior year,” the report said.

All of this to placate a small group of students and faculty and “student life” administrators who will never be placated. A few firings and expulsions early on, coupled with strong statements about free speech, would have prevented this debacle.

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