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MCLA President Jamie Birge welcomes faculty and staff to the annual convocation breakfast in the Amsler Campus Center on Tuesday.

MCLA Sees Upward Trend in Enrollment, Return to Campus Living

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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New Trustees Chair Brenda Burdick speaks about the incoming class of MCLA students. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is hoping an upward trend in enrollment will continue as the fall semester begins this week. 
 
The college's numbers have dipped precipitously over the years. But the latest figures see a slight bump in freshman and transfers, and a return to campus living.
 
"As with many colleges across the U.S., MCLA's enrollment continues to feel the impact of the pandemic," said President Jamie Birge at Tuesday's convocation breakfast. "We anticipate 260 new students this fall, up from 223. ... This is the second year in a row when we've increased new student admissions over the previous year, a healthy trajectory."
 
Just a few weeks before the number had been 230, as reported by new Trustees Chair Brenda Burdick minutes earlier. Of those incoming students, 92 percent had received some form of merit scholarship, about 50 already had some college credit and nearly half were the first in their families to attend college. 
 
Birge said the college has a lower overall four-year enrollment principally due to large graduating classes in the last two years — there were 276 graduates in 2022. 
 
In 2020, there were a total of 1,202 graduate and undergraduate students and 1,507 the year before, according to the most recent college fact book. 
 
That's still down significantly from 2011, when nearly 1,900 students were enrolled. In the fall of 2020, only 529 students were on campus that first year of the pandemic, down more than 300 from 2016 and Hoosac Hall was closed last year. 
 
This year, more students are choosing to stay on campus rather than commute and it's helping the budget. 
 
"Although overall enrollment is lower this year, increases in auxiliary revenue has increased principally from room and board fees," said the president. "These increases provide a slightly better budget position for us this year." 
 
However, without the one-time resources from the federal government doled out during pandemic, Birge said the college has to be "extremely cautious" about expenditures. 
 
"I've worked in higher education for more than 35 years and the last two years have been more chaotic than any other year I know," he said. "It's created great challenges for how we budget but I want to assure you the budget is in good shape. In the last few years in fact, the institution did very well financially probably better than it had in the previous 10 years. 
 
"So the budget, although still delicate, is in a good position. And we anticipate moving forward with the budget that the board approved last June."
 
Birge acknowledged there have been challenges in filling vacant executive staff positions and there are ongoing attempts to "re-envision" them to make them more attractive. 
 
"The pandemic has provided an opportunity for people around the world to reconsider how they work, coupled with the 'great resignation' and the long COVID phenomenon, the pandemic has created a changed work environment that MCLA needs to accommodate," he said, but added that there are no plans to change currently filled positions. 
 
New programming and projects include the development of men's and women's hockey teams; Theresa O'Bryant has become dean of student success and engagement, Kayla Hollins the executive director of the Center for Student Persistence and Bridget Lawler will join the college in January as executive director of enrollment management; completion of the Amsler Campus Center roof replacement; and the ongoing repair and replacement of the steam pipe and water lines, expected to be completed next spring. 
 
The college has also begun its 10-year reaccreditation process that will culminate in a self-study report and campus peer review next fall. 
 

Mayor Jennifer Macksey, a former administrator at the college, says she looks forward to the city and college working together. 
The breakfast gathering in the Centennial Room in the Campus Center also included greetings from Burdick, elected chair in June; Seth Bean, state president of the Association of Professional Administrators, who said the administrators looked forward to working with the college to meet the needs of students, and professor Hannah Haynes, president of the Faculty Association, who spoke to the need to pass the Fair Share Amendment to fund higher education. 
 
North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey, former director of student accounts at the college, said she looked forward to working with the college in "developing this campus into a strong part of this community." 
 
Birge recognized a number of faculty who have joined the college or returned from sabbatical, several student leaders, and history professor emeritus Frances Jones-Sneed, who is being honored by Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Humanities Council this fall for her work on Upper Valley African American Heritage Trail.
 
"I think we all recognize the struggles we've had in that we long for a more familiar academic term this fall," said Birge. "On the eve of a new academic year, I'm asking all of us to take a moment of reflection, and to consider how we can help to make things easier for one another, how we can complement one another's work and how we can contribute to a vibrant, collegial environment in a world where others seem content with an uncivil climate."

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'Augmented Reality' Works Debut at This Week's First Friday

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — This month's First Friday event will offer a different way to engage with art: through augmented reality. 
 
The Public Arts Commission on Monday approved the installation of signage with QR codes that will give viewers the ability to see artwork overlays by John Craig Freeman and Michael Lewy on local venues. The works will go live Friday night during the Night Market on Eagle Street. 
 
"The art is augmented reality art. It exists in the virtual world, you cannot see it," said Anna Farrington, owner of Installation Space on Eagle Street that is hosting the exhibit. "The signs will communicate to viewers the QR codes that help you access the art and if you do not already have the QR app on your phone to look at the art, it will prompt you to download the Hoverlay app."
 
Farrington, chair of the commission, stepped away from her position on Monday to make the presentation. She said she had already spoken with Mayor Jennifer Macksey and Building Inspector William Meranti, who approved the project. All that was left was an endorsement from the commission for placing the signs on public property. 
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