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“Plain Living” (summer 2004)
WHEN NATIONAL CROSSTALK visited Berea College in 2004, we reported that the college was engaged in a campaign to augment its $800 million endowment by $150 million. “That's all over—our endowment is not what it was,” said Communications Manager Jay Buckner. “It is now more than a billion dollars.”
Buckner hastened to add that the fund is dedicated to a very specific purpose. “We have a pretty conservative policy about how to spend that money,” he said. “This is very expensive. We’re providing free education to 1,500 students.”
Berea’s enrollment has not changed, although the college is turning away more applicants than before. “Our enrollment has been capped at 1,500,” Buckner explained. “Large enrollments don’t help our bottom line at all, since we do not charge tuition.”
There have been some significant renovation projects in recent years, including some geared toward giving the campus a smaller “ecological footprint.” For instance, many of the buildings now have systems to collect rainwater. “It hits the roof and drains into a cistern,” Buckner said. “That water is then reused. We are doing a lot on the sustainability front.”
Berea College, like the City of Berea, is still “dry” with regard to alcohol, although there is currently a resolution to make the city “moist,” which would allow the sale and consumption of alcohol under certain circumstances. It is not clear how this might affect campus policy.
First-year students still receive free laptop computers, and they get another one when they become juniors. The students still work in a “labor position” ten to 15 hours per week, although it is a common misconception to imagine that they all work in areas such as broomcraft or wrought iron. “Here in the Public Relations office, for instance, I’ve got seven students working for me, doing everything from press releases to professional quality videos,” Buckner explained.
Although Berea’s endowment has grown, costs have increased as well. The college now spends more than $23,000 per student, per year. So, according to Buckner, fundraising continues apace. “It’s still full steam ahead,” he said.