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Analysis: Hiring Luther College's 11th president could be the most important job in years for the college

Posted: Wed, Jun 13, 2018 2:34 PM

(The following is analysis by's Paul Scott):

I'm a graduate of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.  I also can't distinguish between Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Synod and ELCA.  So I fit the definition of "outside observer."

From my desk, however, it looks like hiring the right person to be the next President of Luther College is going to be HUGELY important to the college--and to the community of Decorah.

In short, the last four years haven't been particularly good ones at Luther College.  The decline in enrollment continues, which means less money to pay expenses and less money to hire staff and faculty.  From a peak enrollment of 2,519 students at the start of the 2009-2010 school year, enrollment at Luther has now fallen in nine years to 2,053.  That's a drop of 466 students, or more than 18 percent from the peak.

There's also the sense that Luther College is struggling to articulate its vision of how it fits into the larger world of higher education.  The comprehensive fee at Luther for the 2018-19 academic year is $51,750, although other expenses, such as transportation and textbooks, can push that overall cost to $54,000 a year--or $216,000 for four years.  Financial aid averages around $39,000 a year, but we're still taking about $60,000 in out of pocket expenses over four years for the average family.  That means Mom and Dad are asking hard questions about why Luther is worth the extra money.  I'm not saying it isn't--I'm just saying the college needs to have ready answers.

This is where a president comes in--someone to articulate a vision of why a Luther education matters.  Hiring a person who can do this will mean the difference between the recent enrollment drop being a temporary setback and being much more serious than that.