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Finding the way at Franklin Pierce

Times are tough these days for small liberal arts schools like Franklin Pierce University.

As college costs skyrocket, both students and parents are taking a hard look at what they get for their money. They may be choosing where to attend college as much on whether it offers the right programs so they can graduate and get a good job — or get a job at all — rather than on the beauty of the campus or the ratings on how wild the parties are.

And at schools without huge endowments, the revenue from tuition, room and board is absolutely vital. If students aren’t applying, or don’t stay enrolled after their first semester, a school can really take a financial hit.

So it’s discouraging to hear this week that Franklin Pierce is laying off four full-time staffers and eliminating eight jobs that are currently unfilled. University officials aren’t offering a lot of details, but the layoffs, coming on the heels of the decision in February to eliminate the school’s American studies, theater and dance, graphic communications, fine arts, math and arts management programs, are a sign that the university is struggling to find a niche in a crowded field.

The decisions to cut the programs were driven by the number of students who had declared as majors in each program. The intent was for the school to focus its resources on academic areas where there is greater student interest. That’s an understandable management choice, although it’s a shame to see the school’s excellent theater, dance and arts programs dismantled. They have been a wonderful resource for the Monadnock region, putting on performances and exhibits that drew people to the FPU campus and fostered a strong link between the school and the community. For many, those offerings are just as much a part of the Franklin Pierce culture as the school’s very successful athletic programs at the highly competitive Div. II level.

In an update to members of the university community last week, FPU President James Birge indicated that the school is seeing some success as it works on repositioning itself. He said 495 new students are enrolled on the Rindge campus for the coming school year, with a goal of having 510. The number of current students who will be returning in the fall also appears to be strong, Birge said.

Let’s hope FPU can manage to turn things around. The university is both the largest employer and the largest taxpayer in Rindge. The school has made great progress in improving town/gown relationships in recent years. The students, faculty and staff spend their money not just in Rindge, but throughout the region. It’s important for us all that FPU stays healthy.

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