During times of recession more students head to college, retreating from a poor job environment. Now that the economy is picking up a little, small colleges are starting to feel the pinch, and engaging in all sorts of antics to boost enrollment and cut costs.
Some schools are offering drastic tuition cuts, eliminating low-interest programs, and letting go of teaching staff. But do these tactics work? And how can you decide which programs to let go and which to focus on?
Many colleges saw an increase in enrollments in 2008 during the worst of the recession, as many chose to retreat to the safety of higher education after not being able to find a job or losing a job. This was seen especially as an increase in students over the age of 24.
Now the economy begins to recover and more people are finding work, many schools are dealing with declining enrollments. Spring of 2013 saw a 2.3 percent decrease in students enrollments, and a 0.8 percent decrease this past year. Not only this, but many families are questioning the value of a college degree that often leaves students underemployed and buried in mountains of debt. They are making their decision more carefully, choosing schools that can offer more aid and a greater chance of their student succeeding.
Declining enrollment hits small private colleges the hardest. Large and prestigious universities, those that are generally ranked highly in rating sites, have no lack of student applications. In addition these schools often have large endowments that allow them to merit aid and scholarships to attract the best students even in lean times.
Everyone heard the shocking news when Sweet Briar College announced they were closing. Through efforts primarily of the students and alumnni the school is now staying open another year, but one can only wonder if this is just a slow death spiral for the small, private school.
Another small Christian school, Tennessee Temple University faced a similar plight as it has had to shut down and merge with a nearby university.
Sweet Briar had average freshman retention rates and average on-time graduation rates when the academic achievement of their students was taken into account. Student loan default rates were average as well, but with a class of only 723 students in 2013, they have to be above average to attract and retain the types of students that could keep them going.
Tennessee Temple showed some red flags, as the student loan default rate was higher than normal, freshman retention was low, and only 20% of students graduated on time.
Both these schools faced challenges recruiting students who have a declining interest in attending small private schools catering to a narrow audience. They are just two more in a string of colleges that have been forced to close their doors. Much focus has been on private colleges, but even public colleges are affected, with South Carolina State University at risk for a temporary shut-down.
Is Your Institution at Risk?
The numbers sound scary, but schools that are able to adapt to the new environment and show value to their students shouldn't have a problem retaining their current enrollment numbers and even growing. The right competitive strategy can ensure your institution will be thriving in ten years, rather then declining.