April 2, 2019

Crimmin helping Becker find its niche

Photo/Grant Welker
Nancy Crimmin will be inaugurated Friday as Becker College president, the school's first female head, as she nears the end of her second school year.

Nearing the end of her second academic year leading Becker College, Nancy Crimmin has an excuse for looking both backwards and ahead, with her inauguration set for Friday at Becker's Leicester campus.

It's been a busy two years for Crimmin, who was first made interim president at Becker in the spring of 2017 when Robert Johnson left the school after seven years to lead UMass Dartmouth, and then permanent president before the start of the fall 2018 semester.

Becker has formed two academic schools, launched what it says is the first esports management program in the country and seen its video game design program rise to third worldwide in a ranking by The Princeton Review. It is also nearing the end of the first year of a new two-semester program that lets undeclared students try out 10 majors.

It's all an effort for the roughly 1,800-student college to find its niche and avoid the fate of a small but growing number of smaller colleges that have closed or are expected to in the coming years. Becker knows about the long-term demographic forecasts that show fewer high school graduates, particularly in the Northeast, and that colleges with small endowments are more susceptible to being left behind in an industry where costs continue to rise sharply.

"Playing to our strengths as who we are as an institution, I think every institution, whether you're public or private, four-year or two-year, has to be doing that. Has to be," Crimmin said in an interview in her office in a small building on Becker's Worcester campus. "The demographics are gloomy. It's a gloomy picture."

Becker's administration is working to stabilize the size of its student body while playing up what draws students to the college in the first place.

Photo/Grant Welker
Becker College is working to play up its advantages as a small school, including personal touches such as having the school's CFO talk directly with students and parents, and events like Pasta with the President and Cookies with Commuters.

Becker is small enough that Crimmin can be regularly seen around campus, with events like Pasta with the President, when she wore an apron and answered questions from students, and Cookies with Commuters. Its chief financial officer speaks face-to-face with prospective or incoming students and their parents, addressing any questions and alleviating any financial concerns.

Tuition and fees for residential students for the upcoming year are $54,175. An average student pays $29,792 after aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education. At the same time, Becker's six-year graduation rate is under 40 percent, a figure the school has been working to raise.

"I don't know if any of us are talking about increasing enrollment," Crimmin said. "We're talking about holding steady with enrollment and increasing our retention rates. We want to keep the ones we have."

Looking ahead longer term with demographics trends, she added, "We're not out of the woods yet."

If many small colleges in the area have cause for concern, Becker's been finding its niche largely with video games.

More traditionally known for its nursing and animal science programs and its agile mindset program that teaches intangible skills, Becker has one of the most highly regarded video game design programs in the world, and this fall it will enroll its first class in its esports management program. Esports, with competitive video game competitions streamed online or watched in person, is a roughly $900 million industry, according to the Dutch researcher Newzoo.

Photo/Grant Welker
The Barrett Center at Becker, which opened in early 2018, has helped the college grow capacity for video game design and other programs.

"This is quite a bit of our fabric now," Crimmin said of esports, which shares a home with video game design and other programs in the new Colleen C. Barrett Center for Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which opened early last year.

Becker hasn't lost focus on other programs.

Within the past year, it has created the new School of Humanities and Social Studies, and remade the Division of Accelerated and Professional Studies into the new School of Graduate and Professional Studies. For the first time, it has allowed students to complete two degrees simultaneously, combining animal care in a dual degree program with four other majors: business, criminal justice, forensic science or psychology.

Becker is also working harder to make sure prospective students find a campus that fits them — and understand what's ahead of them. Financial literacy efforts begin as soon as students make their initial deposit, with the understanding that more questions these days revolve around the value and feasibility of a college degree.

"So far I think the reviews have been really good," Crimmin said. "I think parents appreciate that."

Crimmin believes Becker has the right offerings and is just the right size for a strong future.

"We find that when people come to us, it's usually a tipping point for them if the fit is right," she said.

"We're not going to get big," Crimmin added. "We're going to be a small institution because that's who we are and we're very comfortable with that."

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