The future of a hypothetical college is cast into two scenarios, one leading to success, the other to failure.

Future scenarios” allow an organization to examine the different futures that could result from the interaction of possible future conditions and actions. These two contrasting scenarios about a fictitious Christian college are based on likely environmental factors and “reasonable” actions a Christian college might take. They are simply examples. “Futuring” is primarily about flexibility and readiness; it does not depend on predicting the future.

Mariner College: 1982–90

Mariner College is a fictitious Christian college of liberal arts and sciences that combines the rigorous integration of faith and learning with a rich program of sports and other cocurricular activities in the context of warm and supportive Christian friendships. The beautiful tree-covered campus offers the 1,000 students and 60 faculty members an ideal setting in which to learn and grow together. Total student charges for tuition, room, board, and normal expenses for 1982–83 are $6,000, and the average ACT (American College Test) score is 20, slightly above the national average.

Scenario One: The College That Fails

The opening fall enrollment in 1982 declines 2 percent, ending a 12-year string of increases. The unexpected loss of student revenues is absorbed by deferring several maintenance projects, which include carpeting and redecorating a large dorm and reducing faculty travel allowances.

To make up the loss, and as protection against the chance of further enrollment slippages, President I. M. Fine obtains trustee approval of a 12 percent increase in student charges for 1983–84. He also decides to phase out the popular but expensive music major, to install a computer major in its place because of more student demand in that area, to develop a new set of classy student recruitment materials and magazine ads, and to increase student aid funds in response to curbs in government aid.

The enrollment declines another 2 percent in 1983–84, but the higher charges actually produce an increase in gross student revenues. Most of the increase is set aside for student financial aid and the rest is spent on urgently needed repairs to the campus heating system. With inflation under 5 percent, students grumble about the “huge increase” they must pay, and the faculty wonder aloud why they are getting only 6 percent salary adjustments. College teaching jobs are scarce and few faculty leave, but the standardized indicators of innovation and morale sag noticeably as the 1983–84 school year ends with the scheduled release of one of the music professors.

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Student charges are increased 8 percent for 1984–85. Despite lower academic admissions standards, the enrollment continues to follow the general population trend for 18-year-olds and declines again in the fall of 1984 by another 3 percent. The admissions director claims that much of the loss is the result of dropping the music program. The new computer major, with two part-time teachers and three small microcomputers, mainly draws students away from other majors. The program grows slowly because the college fails to find a qualified computer scientist and cannot afford more elaborate equipment.

In the 1984 national elections, the pressures of continued bad economic conditions produce a marked shift. “Pump-priming” bills are quickly passed, and by spring of 1985 the economy is coming to life. Inflation, however, is also surging toward double digits as the federal budget deficit starts to balloon. President Fine tries to anticipate the situation by raising student charges 12 percent for 1985–86. The smaller student body requires cutting at least four more faculty positions. The foreign language requirement and the major in romance languages are both dropped, and two of the three language teachers are released. It is hoped that eliminating the language requirement will help attract students. A very popular history teacher resigns and one of the two sociology teachers leaves when she is denied tenure. Neither is replaced, but the director of admissions is.

The high tuition combines with the continuing decline in the number of high school graduates to produce an unexpected 5 percent drop in the 1985 fall enrollment. That puts the college at 880 students. Additional personnel cuts are rejected in hopes that the worst is over, but Mariner’s student attrition rate has been rising 6 to 8 percent each year as students transfer out because the college cannot live up to its advertising. For the first time in 20 years, Mariner College has to borrow to cover a budget deficit, a whopping $340,000.

Despite inflation running at 15 percent, student charges are only increased 12 percent and more money is put into student aid. Salary increases are about half the inflation rate, and faculty complain bitterly. The new admissions director completes some research that indicates many people think the college is “slipping” academically. Students who inquire but do not apply report that the college is not as current in computer and video learning technology as its two main competitors. There are also strong complaints about the bad condition of the dormitories and the high cost of attendance. Some people interpret the low morale as weak spiritual and religious life on campus, a reputation the college has trouble shaking; contributions from churches slow noticeably.

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The enrollment holds steady in 1986, but then slides again in 1987, and in 1988 to about 800, while the average ACT score sinks almost 2 points below the national average. Five more faculty are released and 7 of the 34 majors offered at Mariner now have only one professor each. The president and development officer frequently hear potential donors say they do not want to risk putting money into a college that appears to be sinking. The local bank refuses to lend the college any more money for renovating the dorms, so the small endowment is “borrowed” and the work begun. The placement officer reports that a glut of low-level computer programmers is developing, and only students from high-powered departments will have much chance of finding jobs.

A regional accreditation evaluation during 1988–89 places the college on provisional status because the stated goals and standards of the college are not being met and its financial future seems questionable. The report specifically mentions lack of endowment, declining contributions from churches, badly deteriorating facilities, outdated equipment, very low faculty and student morale, low faculty salaries, inadequate library and learning resources including access to computerized information services, too many weak majors, and too many faculty who have not kept current in their fields because of inadequate travel and development funds. The negative decision of the accrediting agency is announced by the local newspaper, and a nearby television station makes the college the central example in a news special on “disappearing colleges.”

At their fall meeting in 1989, the board of trustees accepts the resignation of President Fine. The uncertainty created by his sudden departure further reduces confidence in the college, and the fall enrollment in 1989 is a disastrous 740. The budget is slashed and four more staff are released during the year. Everyone agrees to an across-the-board pay cut of 2 percent. A complete curriculum revision is attempted by the faculty in order to use the remaining teachers better, and new advertising is prepared emphasizing that Mariner is a small, friendly campus with nice-looking dorms. The student charges are over $10,000 for the fall of 1990 as the fifth graders of 1982 decide where to attend college. Not many of them show much interest in Mariner College.

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Scenario Two: The College That Succeeds

During the summer of 1982, when it becomes apparent that the fall enrollment will drop about 3 percent, President I. M. Fine initiates a backup plan developed during long-range planning sessions. Six part-time teachers with contingency clauses in their contracts are not hired, reducing the faculty by a matching 3 percent. At the October meeting of the board the president challenges the trustees to help him present Mariner’s Christian philosophy of education to 100 potential major donors in an effort to raise a $2 million endowment by Christmas of 1984. A few object to this new responsibility, and three resign. Most stay on campus for an extra day of planning and instruction.

In the fall of 1982, President Fine appoints a committee to assess the quality of each academic program and determine how important it is to long-term achievement of the institutional mission. The faculty object strenuously to participating until the president explains that program reductions will be unavoidable because the college has expanded beyond its projected resources, even if the endowment campaign is a success. The only question, he says, is whether he will have the benefit of faculty wisdom in making cuts.

The president receives the committee report at the start of the spring semester. After studying it, he obtains trustee approval to phase out the majors in chemistry and business/economics. The best of the three chemistry teachers accepts an offer to remain on the faculty; the other two take jobs in industry. The weakness of the chemistry program is well known to the faculty and they offer little resistance to its elimination.

The business/economics decision is messier. The chairman of the business department seeks to arouse faculty and trustee support to save the major. His strong statements in the student newspaper and in faculty meetings polarize the campus community, and he sends a steady flow of information to the faculty, especially emphasizing the strong demand for business majors. Eventually he and two others decide to leave. Campus morale is seriously eroded.

The economist who stays is a knowledgable but famously dull lecturer. During the summer of 1983 he and a writing teacher are given grants to devise courses that make use of computers and video terminals. President Fine’s competence is questioned in the college rumor mill when the fall 1983 enrollment slides another 3 percent. Some accuse Fine of overkill in cutting faculty by 9 percent, and others of failure to advertise aggressively enough to attract students.

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Criticism intensifies when much of the net savings from the faculty reductions is “wasted” on small computers, videotape equipment, videodisc units, and library computer services. The rest of the money is used for a marketing consultant who spends most of 1983–84 working with three social science professors analyzing Mariner’s competition and sending questionnaires to Mariner students and alumni, pastors, and parents of high school students. The expression “Fine Folly” is the campus joke.

With some scraping, the college ends the year without a deficit. The 1984–85 budget is balanced with the third 7 percent tuition and fees increase in a row, despite inflation of 12 percent. At the fall faculty workshop the president announces the trustees and administrators have helped bring in $1 million of endowment, with another half-million pledged. The fall enrollment shows no decline. The dean of admissions reports that the reasons are unclear, but it appears to be spillover from the trustees’ endowment-raising activities.

The marketing report suggests that current students are satisfied with the college except for the food service, a rule against wearing jeans to classes, and required daily chapel. It also indicates that Mariner is recruiting 45 percent of those who inquire from Christian high schools but only 8 percent of those in public schools. The competing colleges are a cheap but low-status community college, two state universities, and seven Christian colleges scattered throughout a five-state region. The parents of prospective students rank security above all else—spiritual, physical, and emotional—with job placement and financial aid right behind.

Faculty displeasure over the loss of colleagues is largely forgotten in the excitement surrounding the year-end push that enables them to reach the $2 million endowment goal. Nine profesors return a week early from winter break to work with President Fine and others on marketing strategies for promoting Mariner’s educational and religious purposes. The college begins systematic revision of its advertising and develops different viewbooks for students in public schools and Christian schools. The dress code is revised, budget is increased for better chapel services, and the cost of more expensive food service is passed on to students.

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During the spring term a TV station does a local news report on “The Electronic College” that features the courses in writing and economics aided by computers and video terminals resulting from summer faculty grants. The publicity helps recruitment noticeably, and so many more professors request similar development that a grant is obtained to offer training to all interested faculty.

Enrollment climbs slightly to 950 in the fall of 1985, and the average ACT score begins a slow rise that is to continue for three years. Student charges and staff salaries both go up 6 percent for 1985–86 on the expectation that inflation will fall rapidly. Instead, inflation averages 9 percent and the endowment income is less than hoped for, but income from the extra students cover the problem and even produces a surplus, used for preventive maintenance work.

From 1986 through 1988, fall enrollment increases and student attrition declines as the marketing effort takes full effect. No additional faculty are hired because the growing use of electronic learning media is allowing teachers both to handle more students and to improve the quality of instruction. These improvements allow salary increases well above the 10 to 12 percent inflation rate, and keep tuition charges to 8 to 10 percent. The improved salaries help the college attract several outstanding professors, and Mariner College receives high praise from the accrediting agency.

By the end of the decade, Mariner has over 1,000 students. It is a leader in electronic learning technology and has a beautifully maintained campus. Its prestige is rising and it has become moderately selective in admissions. With excellent financial aid available from a growing endowment, the $10,000 student charges make Mariner the first choice of many 1982 fifth graders headed for college in the fall of 1990.

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