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Winter For Higher Ed


How can a college survive when the students stop coming? That’s the question facing a number of mid-level private schools in the US, which are facing enrollment declines unlike any they have seen in recent years. For the past few decades, enrollment at most private colleges has generally risen or remained flat, but as the WSJ reports, over 25 percent of private schools have seen double-digit enrollment drops over the past three years, causing some to wonder whether the higher-ed landscape will weather the storm intact. Many schools are considering closing, downsizing, or even merging with other institutions:

“I think it’s fair to say 30% of these private schools won’t exist in a decade,” said Jonathan Henry, vice president for enrollment at Husson University, a private school in Bangor, Maine, whose 2013 first-year enrollment was 17% lower than in 2009. “A lot of these schools will have to learn to live with less.” Husson has built graduate programs to offset the declines, he said.

And these problems don’t appear likely to go away any time soon:

But more-worrisome long-term trends are buffeting these schools, including a national decline in the number of graduating high-school seniors, a swarm of technologies driving down costs and profit margins, rising student debt, a soft job market for college graduates and stagnant household incomes. Meanwhile, college costs have climbed at more than triple the inflation rate.

Winter isn’t coming: for many colleges, it is already here.

[Library image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Bruno_Behrend

    They can forestall their financial failure for another 10 years if they simply fire 80 percent of administration.

    Education in America has basically become a jobs program for in army of unnecessary paper-pushing employees.

  • Bart Hall

    So far this is primarily driven by demographics. The Echo Boom births of the Millennial Generation peaked in 1991. College enrollment therefore should be *expected* to peak in 2009 and 2010.

    • Andrew Allison

      Interesting, is it not, that the Academy failed to notice this obvious fact and expanded (and increased tuition) as if the good times would never end. Call it the higher-education bubble.

      • Bart Hall

        And talk about self-serving … typically one would expect intellects >1-sigma to do well in college and subsequent intellectual careers. >1-sigma is about 16% of the population (IQ>115). Currently about 33% graduate but half end up doing work not requiring a degree. This is predominantly the population at the upper end of <1-sigma.

        Far too many people are going to college who don't need to do. Our government are lending them lots of money we don't have, so they can get an "education" they don't need, for jobs which don't exist. What could go wrong.

        People have, for a long time, been mistaking a college degree as a source of success when in actuality it was (until recent years) an *indicator* thereof.

        Employers have figured that out. Academia … has not.

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