Brenau University President Ed Schrader
Ed L. Schrader, in his 11th year at the helm of the 3,000-student Georgia university with a growing 137-year-old, 900-student Women's College at its core, implemented financial management practices in strategic growth that some in higher education find somewhat heretical.

President Schrader Cautions New U.S. Higher Education Colleagues to Let Logic Rule Sentimentality in Keeping Institutions Viable

Mar. 12, 2015
David Morrison

In the wake of the financial collapses of a 114-year-old women’s college that by visible physical and financial assets appeared to be solvent, the head of one of the remaining female single-gender institutions at a national meeting in Washington, D.C., March 14 will advise new college presidents how to keep their colleges and universities afloat.

Ed L. Schrader, president of 3,000-student Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, will address some of his newer colleagues in higher education “corner office” positions at the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Council on Education’s new presidents’ seminar on Saturday, March 14, at 3-4:30 p.m.

Brenau University includes a 137-year-old 900-student women’s college on its historic campus about 50 miles north of Atlanta. It also operates coeducation programs for bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees on several campus and online.

In Schrader’s 10 years as Brenau president, the university’s budget more than doubled and its operating results have improved from a million-dollar negative in 2006 to about $5.9 million for 2015. Currently it is building new sorority houses, a large residence hall and an athletics complex for use by three of its intercollegiate sports team – all three designed to expand, not reduce, the women’s college experience. Brenau has also launched the second phase of ForeverGold, the largest capital campaign in history – funding for across-the-board growth in the university.

ACE scheduled Schrader’s presentation to the new presidents long before the public revelation earlier this month that Sweet Briar College, a 700-student all-female institution in Virginia, would shut its doors at the end of the current academic year – despite an $84 million endowment and an enviable 3,000-acre campus.

“My message to my new colleagues would be the same as it was before the news about Sweet Briar,” he said. “As a college president, you have to be a president and take care of the fiscal well-being of your institution first or your academic status won’t matter. You’ll be out of business.”

“I worry about sentimentality ruling logic,” he added, “and I am afraid that is happening in the isolated ivy halls. You can make choices that that will enable you to survive, like cutting faculty members, rejiggering programs, or changing the investment strategy. However, you also have to make nontraditional academic decisions.”

Schrader, a geologist who left the private business sector midway through his career to return to academia, previously was president of Shorter University in Rome, Georgia. He currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and as a member of a blue-ribbon commission of Council of Independent Colleges presidents from around the United States seeking to make recommendations for the “re-invention” of liberal arts education for 21st century relevance.

Schrader’s co-presenter for the program will be the university’s financial management consultant, James F. Galbally of Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Galbally had spent 20 years at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an associate dean overseeing finances for the dental school, and had taught in the management school and the higher-education program alongside Robert Zemsky, an expert in college management. He also spent several years as a consultant specializing in training new college presidents.

When he first started working for Brenau early in Schrader’s tenure, Galbally told The Chronicle of Higher Education last year, “Ed asked the question that most boards ask of their presidents, but most presidents can’t answer. With three academic platforms – a women’s college, an evening-and-weekend college, and an online college – what do these cost, and which are winners and losers?”

To answer the question, and drill deeper into university operations with similar questions about every aspect of its operation, the university employed a financial system. According to the Chronicle in a March 3 article, “Brenau runs a tight ship, monitoring every penny the institution spends on students and expanding coed graduate programs to support the traditional women’s program. All of that takes a hard-nosed approach to what’s working, what’s marketable, and what’s not.”

Although Schrader said that Brenau’s basic cost-accounting methodology is standard procedure on successful businesses, it is somewhat heretical in higher education.

However, he said, his is a message new college presidents need to hear. “Higher education is a volatile industry,” he said. “Some academics do not like to hear those kinds of terms applied to what they do – industry, business, customer, market-driven. But I am not spouting the old cliché that you need to ‘run a university like a business,’ but just use good business practices in running it like a university.”

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