July 27, 2020 Letter

July 27, 2020
Salem Seal
Office of the President
Salem Academy and College
601 South Church Street
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27101


Dear Salem Community:

This morning, as always, I began my day by reading news stories and reflecting on the world around me. I cannot remember a time in my life when uncertainty has been more pervasive or daily decision-making so fraught. Nor can I remember a time when the news has been so focused on the state of education—in K-12 schools and higher education. 

Today, I write to bring you up to date on some of the ways those headlines have affected the financial standing of Salem Academy and College.  


As you likely know, higher education has been deeply damaged by the coronavirus, from the largest institutions to the smallest. The president of Stanford University recently forecasted a negative financial impact of $267 million because of COVID-19. The University of North Carolina system campuses have undertaken scenario planning with a 25–50% cut to their budgets. Experts have predicted that before the pandemic ends, multiple small liberal arts colleges will close. Perhaps this warning, from Inside Higher Education, best summarizes what all colleges and universities face: “COVID-19 and the recession it drove will hurt virtually every college financially, both by imposing unexpected costs and by pinching (or gutting) almost every source of revenue.”  

Boarding and independent schools across the country are also struggling with difficult decisions, with increasing evidence that young people’s risk from COVID-19 exceeds what had previously been reported. Boarding schools with staff and faculty who live exclusively on campus face one set of possibilities, while other independent schools face ongoing management costs around safety.

Across public and private education, the outlook is threatening.


Last spring, the unexpected financial and educational impact of our rapid transition to remote learning hit us hard. Like many, we applied for and received assistance from the CARES Act, which enabled us to refund room and board fees to our residential students and to address other unexpected consequences of COVID-19. The Payroll Protection Program funds we received mitigated some of the potential negative effects of financial crisis on our employees. Most crucially, our faculty and staff have worked diligently to learn new modes of teaching, to connect with students, and to embrace new ways of doing what we do well as an Academy and College that have survived—and thrived—across nearly 250 years. 

I am proud of what we accomplished.

And yet, like our peers across the United States, we continue to face significant ongoing financial challenges associated with COVID-19 and with the severe economic downturn that has accompanied the pandemic. Whether we reopen with students and faculty on campus this fall—the scenario that we most want—or revert to remote instruction, the financial consequences are daunting. Indeed, a recent McKinsey report compared the complexities of reopening colleges and universities to opening a small city. 

Early in the pandemic, we began preparing for these complexities and financial consequences. Like our peers, we have instituted sweeping measures to protect Salem’s financial situation. In response to the ongoing crisis, we have made tough decisions. We have reduced expenses through re-examination of our contracts and strategies such as instituting a hiring freeze for all but our most essential personnel. I have asked others to join me in taking a pay reduction and have taken additional steps to reduce our personnel costs. And we have continued a spending freeze instituted in March. We have also been successful with several recent foundation grants for specific projects that are not related to COVID expenses; and we continue to pursue state and federal resources aimed at supporting institutions like ours.

Of course, we are also making every effort to ensure students return to Salem, staying in close touch with them and their families and strengthening our admissions recruitment at the Academy and College. I am especially proud of our admissions efforts in this unprecedented time.  


As I recently said to Salem faculty and staff when reviewing some of the tough decisions facing us, we are not alone. While this does little to mitigate the pain we are experiencing, it does provide a context for making sense of Salem’s present and future decisions. Many of you helped Salem generously in the Step Up for Salem campaign, enabling us to reduce—though not eliminate—debt; and that reduction led to the lifting of financial probation by the College’s accrediting body (SACSCOC). We remain extremely grateful for your remarkable support.  

Yet, just as we communicated when probation was lifted, that step was a beginning and not an end, a fact that remains relevant for Salem and those who love the institution. Our progress forward—as Academy and College—is rooted in ongoing conscientious strategic planning to further secure our future. 

Step Up for Salem was the basis on which we survived. And it is a model for our future together. It revealed our strength and determination. Today, Salem needs your continuing generous financial support. The girls and young women we educate are extraordinary, and their post-graduate careers enhance Salem’s academic reputation, in turn building our applications and enrollment. Our mission requires—and our passions dictate—that we continue to educate them creatively through the pandemic and beyond, for we know that the Salem experience produces leaders whose expertise will be needed more than ever in the years ahead. 

In addition to providing your financial support, I also encourage you to contact your U.S. senators and representatives, urging them to provide special funding for higher education, whose institutions have long been the envy of the world and are now in peril.

In the coming days and weeks, we will continue to communicate with you about Salem’s needs and how you can help. Thank you for your loyalty and generosity. You make Salem strong!

Along with you, I hope that this pandemic will soon abate, with consistent safety precautions—masks, social distancing, and hand washing—and the development of effective vaccines. May we all remain healthy and productive as we move through this challenging period, keeping our eye on the ways that our future depends on us—and on the generations we continue to educate for leadership rooted in courage and compassion. 


Susan Henking signature

Susan Henking
Interim President

To contribute to Salem College, please click here:  salem.edu/give

To contribute to Salem Academy, please click here:  salemacademy.com/give