Oglethorpe University will start the fall semester this month with a stronger financial situation and a record freshman class.
Oglethorpe’s annual fund received contributions totaling $1,211,247.81 in 2008-09, about $2,000 better than the $1,209,241.18 raised the previous year, according to figures released last month after the close of the fiscal year. The 2008-09 figure is a record for the Brookhaven university’s annual fund.
“Peter and the fundraising staff have done an amazing job in this economy,” Susan Soper, Oglethorpe’s new executive director of marketing and communications, said of Peter Rooney, the university’s vice president for development and alumni relations.
Setting a fundraising record during a recession that has hammered charitable giving is a sign Oglethorpe’s financial problems may be history. The university’s reaccreditation has been on hold largely because of budget woes that predated President Lawrence Schall’s arrival in 2005, but school officials have expressed optimism that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges will restore full accreditation in December.
Oglethorpe has taken various actions to shore up its finances, including temporarily cutting staff salaries last fall and suspending retirement contributions in January. Schall said the university eliminated a large chunk of the salary reductions in July, and he expects the remaining 2.25 percent pay cut to be restored this fall.
“We have managed not to lay anyone off, not a single person. That is actually amazing,” Schall said in a written statement. “But our endowment is down like everyone else’s, and our families are struggling like everyone else’s.”
He said a fiscally conservative approach has served the university well through the recession.
“We set a new annual fund record this year, our cash flow for the year that ended was close to a million dollars positive, and enrollment for the fall is always very strong,” Schall said.
As of Aug. 4, a record 264 freshmen had enrolled for the fall semester, which starts Aug. 24. Orientation for new students begins Aug. 20 and includes a group service project Aug. 21, when students can earn one of four required Center for Community Engagement points by helping clean up Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta.
The university drew 262 new students a year ago and only 202 in 2007-08.
The Princeton Review’s latest edition of “The Best 371 Colleges” rates Oglethorpe No. 20 for professors, No. 17 for college theater, and No. 10 for interactions that cross racial and class lines.
“With rising national interest in the South, it won’t be long before the academic strength found at Oglethorpe attracts wider attention and more applicants,” the book reads. “At present, it’s much easier to gain admission here than at many universities of similar quality. Go to Atlanta for a campus interview — you’ll leave impressed.”