Recent closures have small, less-selective colleges—and their students—‘on edge’

A growing number of smaller, less-selective colleges are facing declining enrollment and financial hardship—with some forced to close their doors before current students can graduate. Reporting on the trend and these closures’ implications for students, The Atlantic recently profiled Newbury College, a private liberal-arts school in Massachusetts, which drew students primarily from neighboring towns and ceased operations at the end of May.

After announcing its impending closure in December 2018, Newbury saw enrollment plummet. Administrators took steps to ease remaining students’ next steps, tapping admissions officers to serve as transfer officers and creating protocols to facilitate academic transitions. The Atlantic notes that faculty members were generally able to find work elsewhere, but for students, “the raw pain and the stakes involved in such a shutdown [were] compounded by the fact that Newbury was also home. …[It] welcomed many of its students when few other schools would.”

First-generation students made up approximately 70 percent of Newbury’s enrollment; compared with other schools in the region, its students were also more likely to be low-income and students of color.

Struggling to survive

Newbury wasn’t always a four-year college, and its death knell may have occurred when the college started granting bachelor’s degrees. Higher education experts told The Atlantic that the college struggled to stay competitive in the Boston area, which has some 50 other schools that grant bachelor’s degrees.

National trends also have foreshadowed struggles for colleges like Newbury. Amid growing interest in online education and a shrinking pool of prospective students—many of them directing their applications to selective schools—the total number of colleges has dropped. There were 2,902 four-year U.S. colleges in 2017-18, compared with 3,122 four years earlier. Even though many of those closures were underperforming for-profit colleges, smaller, less-selective non-profit colleges are now feeling the pressure. “In some places, such as Vermont, it’s felt as if small, private institutions are toppling one after the other,” The Atlantic writes.

Some colleges are doing what they can to avoid closing their doors to students who need them. The Atlantic points out schools like Delaware Valley University, which has recently started offering “summer camps and classes for retired people” in an effort to boost revenue. Simmons University, a private women’s institution, has shifted toward online classes and made its graduate courses co-ed.

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