Mills College President to Step Down Amid Reports of Serious Financial Struggles at the Oakland Institution


Mills College President Alecia DeCoudreaux. - MILLS COLLEGE
  • Mills College
  • Mills College President Alecia DeCoudreaux.
Mills College President Alecia DeCoudreaux has announced that she will step down in summer of 2016 — a decision that comes five months after Moody's Investors Service released a report signaling serious financial troubles for the Oakland-based liberal arts women's college. In Mill's official announcement of DeCoudreaux's departure, Kathleen Burke, chair of the board of trustees, said that the board has "reluctantly accepted" the president's decision not to renew her contract when it ends next June, adding, “We had hoped that she would continue the important work she has undertaken at the College during her tenure, but understand that personal and professional considerations are drawing her attention elsewhere when her contract ends.”

Inside Higher Ed has published a piece this week that puts the news into context, noting the ongoing financial problems of the college and the faculty unrest that DeCoudreaux has faced. 

See More: 
Mills Officially Opens to Transgender Students
The Battle for Adjunct Faculty Rights 

DeCoudreaux, a former pharmaceutical executive who began her tenure at Mills in July 2011, released a short statement, saying: “While the Board did approach me about extending my contract, and it will not be easy to leave a place as magical as Mills, I came to the College for a five-year period and have decided that commitment will end next year." DeCoudreaux told Inside Higher Ed that she wanted to spend more time with her family — her husband works outside of California, and her mother is ninety years old — and noted that the job is particularly time-consuming given the college's financial challenges. In November, Moody's released a report saying that Mills' financial outlook is negative — one step above a junk bond rating. The poor rating reflects Mills' continued deficit, which Moody's said will be "increasingly difficult to balance" due to a range of factors, including "Mills' small size and narrow market niche as an undergraduate college for women." And the very low yield of 13 percent on freshman applicants in fall 2014 signals the college's "comparatively weak market position," Moody's added. 

After DeCoudreaux stepped up in 2011, she launched program cuts and layoffs — including eliminating fifteen positions — in an effort to save $1 million in costs and close the budget gap, according to Insider Higher Ed, which noted that staff also faced weeklong furloughs and salary reductions. Mills also cut the track team in 2012. Still, the hole in Mills' budget was $5.5 million in 2014, according to the news report. Moody's last year noted that Mills is heavily relying on spending from its endowment, and had a 9 percent three-year average operating deficit for fiscal years 2012 through 2014. Simply put, Mills does not currently take in enough cash to cover its annual debts, according to the Moody's report. 

DeCoudreaux told Inside Higher Ed that a recent potential vote of no confidence by faculty did not influence her decision. Tensions between faculty and administration have also recently intensified surrounding the push by non-tenured faculty for better job security and workers' rights (an issue I explored in an Express story last year, "The Battle for Adjunct Faculty Rights"). 

In its press release, the college credited DeCoudreaux with "implementing financial best practices, identifying new revenue opportunities, highlighting the need to create a modern, flexible curriculum, and maintaining overall enrollment at a consistent level." The college also noted that under DeCoudreaux's leadership, Mills became the first women's college to open its doors to transgender women.

You can read the college's full announcement here, the Moody's report here, and the Inside Higher Ed piece here