Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

America’s Disappearing Private Colleges

Wall Street Journal op-ed:  America’s Disappearing Private Colleges, by Allen C. Guelzo (Gettysburg College):

Over the past decade, the idea that the higher-education bubble is about to burst has been waved away as headline pessimism or conservative sour grapes over the leftward drift of college faculties. Yet the biggest threat to higher education comes not from rising tuition or political bias but demographics. The Great Recession not only played havoc with financial markets and subprime mortgages; it persuaded anxious adults not to have children. Birthrates plunged by almost 13% from 2007 to 2012, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes fertility could fall further.

In “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education,” economist Nathan Grawe finds that the “birth dearth” will cost America 650,000 people of college age in the 2020s. At the prevailing rate of college attendance, which has plateaued at 65% in the past decade, that means 450,000 fewer U.S. college applicants. Hardest hit, unfortunately, will be those areas most populated by private colleges: New York, Pennsylvania, New England and around the Great Lakes.

There are approximately 1,800 private four-year degree-granting institutions in the U.S., including some of the most visible names in elite education, such as Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke and the schools of the Ivy League. But the vast majority are more like Concordia. These schools may be long on history, but they’re short on money and shorter on students. ...

As the pool of college-bound students shrinks, elite schools will recruit more from populations once left to the smaller regional colleges. That will leave the small colleges with fewer candidates to recruit, and less in student-aid enticements to keep applicants from being sucked away by big-name schools.

marvard Business School’s Clayton Christensen expects half of all U.S. colleges and universities—not private ones, all—to close or go bankrupt in the next decade. That’s a worst-case scenario. But even the gentlest estimate, from Moody’s, is that 15 private colleges will close each year, causing major problems for local economies. Overall, Mr. Grawe expects small four-year colleges to shed some 9,000 faculty and staff positions over the next decade.

“Free college for all” may deliver the coup de grâce. Several proposals to eliminate tuition for some or all students have emerged from the Democratic Party, most notably in 2016 from Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.Sen. Brian Schatz’s Debt Free College Act of 2018 is only the latest idea. These programs would benefit almost exclusively students at public universities. Students who might consider private colleges like Franklin & Marshall for $50,000 a year or Rosemont for $32,500 would find the prospect of a tuition- or debt-free education at a public university more appealing. That would be an inestimable loss, not least since so many of the small colleges are vigorous outposts of traditional liberal-arts education.

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This is what you (too often) get with private colleges. riddance.

Posted by: Gerald Scorse | Mar 8, 2019 6:34:18 AM

"few have the intelligence required to become plumbers or auto mechanics."

At least they are one level above the common Troll.

Posted by: Rob T. | Mar 6, 2019 2:43:05 PM

To Dr. Torch above: I presume you are trolling with your point about NY and PA being adjacent to the Great Lakes. Yes both states border Lake Erie and NY borders Lake Ontario. but in common parlance, everyone knows that the "Great Lakes" states are Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois. and you could probably put an asterisk on the last two since the total amount of shoreline is relatively small.

anyhow, my cousin recently told me that tuition, room, board and fees at Franklin and Marshall is upwards of $65k. with apologies to any Diplomat alumni on this board, there is no reason for that college to exist at that price point.

Posted by: Tyler | Mar 6, 2019 9:59:13 AM

I think you're kind of missing the point on that, Todd. Private colleges which teach the classics are being pushed out by government policy that will favor state schools. Guess what they teach at state schools. That's right. You can't expect people getting their checks from the State to teach anything but Statism.

Posted by: Grayson | Mar 6, 2019 8:44:46 AM

"That would be an inestimable loss, not least since so many of the small colleges are vigorous outposts of traditional liberal-arts education." No, they are vigorous outposts of illiberal education.

Posted by: Dave F | Mar 6, 2019 7:26:29 AM

What about Burlington College (Vermont), which was run into the ground, allegedly due to overspending by its administrators?

Posted by: John Saunders | Mar 6, 2019 6:43:10 AM

America is better off without the for-profit private colleges once run by the likes of Education Corporation of America and ITT Technical Institutes. They were little more than cash cows for their administrators, existing on federal student loans and the dreams of the students that they victimized.

Posted by: Gerald Scorse | Mar 6, 2019 5:13:41 AM

Well, if the democrats ruin college too (these bills are about *control*, not just *paying*), the little pricey private places get to take its spot for what should have been taught effectively in high school!

Posted by: Anand Desai | Mar 5, 2019 4:21:00 PM

Liberal enclaves collapsing of their own useless weight. This may require their useless faculties to seek useful work.

I suggest dry wall or planting shrubs, as few have the intelligence required to become plumbers or auto mechanics.

Posted by: Byron | Mar 5, 2019 11:47:04 AM

Uh, you do know that NY and PA are "around the Great Lakes," don't you?

Californians, ugh. ;-)

Posted by: DrTorch | Mar 5, 2019 10:50:17 AM

My nephews both played football in high school but not good enough for D1. I have been amazed though at not only the number of private colleges that they have looked at or have looked at them, but how many of these small private colleges have full football programs, either D2, D3, NIAA. And how expensive these colleges are, and apparently have enough students to keep running. A football program, complete with stadium, turf, weight training, uniforms, staff... is extremely expensive, and these colleges do not make any money on TV or attendance. You'd be lucky to have 500 people watch a game.

It does not make much sense to me, I just don't see how people can afford all of these colleges.

Posted by: GlobalTrvlr | Mar 5, 2019 10:15:44 AM

Are we supposed to be sad about this? Nothing endures forever - if your customer base shrinks and your business model isn't working anymore, time to close up shop.

The nation will have to survive with less professors of Marxist critical poetry theory. The horror!

Posted by: Todd | Mar 5, 2019 7:54:31 AM