Showing posts with label declining enrollment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label declining enrollment. Show all posts

Thursday, May 27, 2021

With less than 100 students, Judson College will file for bankruptcy and close

 Judson College, a Baptist school for women, announced that it will close its doors in July and file for bankruptcy.  

Only 12 new students enrolled at Judson for the 2021 fall semester, and only 80 current students committed to returning in the fall. As a Baptist news story commented, "Operating a college for fewer than 100 students is not financially viable."

Judson will not be the last private college to close this year. Most private colleges are slashing their tuition in a desperate attempt to lure more warm bodies into their classrooms, but that strategy won't save all of them.

During this academic year, private four-year colleges discounted tuition for first-year students by an astonishing 58.4 percent. And the average discount rate for all undergraduates is 48.1 percent.  

In fact, very few students at private colleges are paying the sticker price for tuition. Ninety percent of first-year students got financial aid from their colleges this year, and 83 percent of all undergraduates got a discount.

Basically, private colleges are running a gigantic half-price sale. But discounting tuition won' save a struggling college unless it can entice enough new students to offset their lower tuition.  And that ploy won't work at a time when the supply of higher education significantly exceeds demand.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Colleges of Education--Higher Education's Cash Cows--are Suffering from Malnutrition

Colleges of Education have been higher education's cash cows for more than half a century, but the cash cows have gotten sick.

 Fifty years ago, the education schools were packed with undergraduates--mostly young women--working on their bachelor's degrees in elementary education. Many of them wanted to spend their careers teaching children, and others chose to major in education because they knew it was easy. 

Graduate programs in education also attracted a lot of students. In most states, an educator was required to have a master's degree in educational administration to become certified as a school principal.  That requirement kept the educational administration programs well supplied with working-adult students. 

In the old days, school districts often gave teachers automatic raises if they obtained a master's degree. Many school districts would actually pay a teacher's tuition to get a graduate degree in curriculum studies or educational administration.  Most teachers said, "Why not?"  Free tuition and a pay raise were all the incentives they needed to enroll at a nearby public university.

Universities loved their education colleges because they usually carried large enrollments, and the universities didn't have to pay the education professors very much. Also, public universities often received additional revenues for their graduate programs, so all those enrolled in M.Ed. and Ed.D. programs generated extra income.

But in recent years, the cash cows have gotten sick. Enrollments in education colleges are drastically down at universities all over the United States. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, undergraduate degrees have plummeted over the past 50 years--from 176,000 in 1970-1971 to only about 83,000 in 2017-2018. Graduate-program enrollments have also dropped sharply.

What in the hell happened?  First of all, young people aren't going into the field of education. During the same 50-year period, when education degrees dropped by half, degrees in business more than tripled. In 2017-2018, more than four times as many people obtained business degrees than degrees in education.

Secondly, non-university certification programs proliferated at the expense of the education colleges.  Instead of sitting through a battery of boring college courses before getting a teaching certificate, people with college degrees found out they could immediately get a teaching job and work on their teaching credentials while drawing a salary. These programs were often operated by regional service centers and--in some states--even by the school districts themselves.

No wonder then that the University of South Florida demoted its college of education to a school within a larger college that included non-education programs.  Louisiana State University, where I first began teaching, took that step more than ten years ago.

Why have young people become less inclined to be teachers and school administrators?  Poor pay is one reason.  In Louisiana, teachers are severely underpaid, and the state doesn't participate in Social Security. Why would anyone invest their career in education knowing it will be damned difficult for them to retire comfortably?

Secondly, a public-school classroom is often not a nice place to be anymore--especially in the inner cities. Student discipline is a serious problem in some (but not all) schools.  Standardized testing has put teachers under stress to deliver good test scores. The bureaucratic maze of providing services to students with disabilities has made teaching a lot less satisfying for many educators.

My father was a cattle rancher, and when one of his cows got sick, he got out his spring-loaded "pill gun" and tossed a bovine-grade antibiotic pill down the ailing cow's throat.

But universities do not have an equivalent remedy for their sick cash cows.  For professors and students alike, the education business suffers from a malady for which there is no known cure.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Harvard University will go online this fall but will charge full tuition: $49,000 a year to take courses on your home computer

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard University announced that all undergraduate classes will be taught online this fall. Harvard will allow only 40 percent of its undergraduates to live on campus, including all of its first-year students.

As several people have pointed out, Harvard's decision to teach students online this fall will prompt other universities to reassess their own teaching plans for the fall semester. After all, if mighty Harvard, with its $40 billion endowment, has thrown in the towel regarding face-to-face instruction, then many other colleges will surely follow suit.

Who are we--mere mortals--to question Harvard? Nevertheless, I don't understand the point of bringing first-year students on campus if they are going to be huddled over computers in their dorm rooms when taking classes. Why not let Harvard students stay home with mom and dad if they are not going to see their professors?

Harvard and other elite universities will weather the pandemic if it doesn't stretch on too long.  People who get admitted to Harvard will gladly accept any inconvenience to put Harvard University on their resumes. And, for a short time at least, Harvard can get away with teaching its courses online while charging full tuition--$49,000 a year!

But experts predict that the second- and third-tier colleges will see fewer students this fall. And those students will likely take price into account when choosing their schools.  After all, if students are going to be denied a traditional college experience—student clubs, dorm life, opportunities to develop romantic relationships—why not enroll in the cheapest school?

Without a doubt, most universities will have a lot of empty dorm rooms on their hands this fall, which means a significant loss in revenue. Privately owned student-housing complexes will also have vacant units, and many of these complexes were built with borrowed money.  The savvy cats who expected to make tidy profits on so-called luxury student housing may have trouble making their mortgage payments.

The coronavirus pandemic makes a lot of recent university projects look silly. Louisiana State University, for example, spent $85 million on a student recreation center that includes a climbing wall and a "Lazy River" water feature shaped like the university's initials. It looked like a smart move at the time, and the center was financed with student fees.

Now the Lazy River no longer seems so attractive.  Instead, it just looks like a great place to contract COVID-19.

Wigglesworth Hall at Harvard: Be sure to bring your home computer

Thursday, October 31, 2019

In interest of "diversity," colleges drop SAT/ACT scores for student applicants. But are the colleges sincere?

More than 1,000 colleges have dropped the ACT or SAT test as an admission requirement. According to a Washington Post story, more than half of the top 100 liberal arts colleges (as selected by U.S. News and World Report) have dropped standardize tests as part of their admission process.

The colleges will tell you they are ditching ACT and SAT tests because the tests discriminate against racial minorities and the socio-economically disadvantaged (poor people). But I think this explanation is mere blather.  The colleges are dropping standardized tests in the admissions processes for two reasons that they dare not articulate.

First, most of the elite colleges are engaging in race discrimination in making their admissions decisions.  Harvard, for example, has been accused of discriminating against Asian applicants based on an analysis of enrollment criteria. Asians lost their discrimination claim against Harvard, but they are appealing in a case that is likely going to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is much harder for disappointed college applicants to claim they were discriminated against based on race when the objective criteria of SAT and ACT scores are jettisoned. College admission officers will argue that standardized test scores interfere with the goal of achieving diversity, which is just a disingenuous way of saying their admissions decisions are subjective and often based on race.

Regarding the less selective schools, many are ditching the ACT and SAT exams because they are so desperate for students that they've lowered their admission standards and don't want anyone to know it.  By tossing out standardized test scores, it becomes harder to document the fact that many colleges will now admit anyone who has a pulse and some student-loan money. In fact, the pulse may be optional.

A great many of the 1,000 colleges and universities that have gone test-optional for student applicants are obscure institutions that are probably struggling to keep their enrollments up. For example,  Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. only has about 1,000 students and is facing several financial problems. The Chair of the Earlham Board of Trustees released a letter to the campus  community in 2018, which acknowledged that the college had been "running substantial operating deficits" since 2008 and that its present level of cash flow was not sustainable.

I don't have inside information about enrollment challenges at the 1,000 colleges and universities that scrapped the ACT and SAT,  but I feel sure that many of them are scrambling to survive and that the chief motivation for most of them is to juice their enrollments and not to enhance "diversity."

Photo credit: Kayana Szymczak, New York Times

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The enrollment crash is an existential threat to liberal arts colleges: Bucknell VP Bill Conley's insightful essay

Bill Conley, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Bucknell University, wrote a perceptive essay for Chronicle of Higher Education about the "Great Enrollment Crash" at liberal arts colleges. There has been a huge downturn in undergraduate education at liberal arts colleges, and no turnaround is in sight. As Conley put it:
Higher education has fully entered into a new structural reality. You'd be na├»ve to believe that most colleges will be able to ride out this unexpected wave [ declining enrollment] as we have the previous swells.
What's going on?

First, as Conley explains, the demographics are bad. Americans are having fewer children. In fact, the birth rate has fallen below replacement levels in the U.S., just as it has in Europe. There are fewer high school graduates who want to go to college.

Secondly, the demand for a liberal arts education has plummeted. As Conley reports, degrees in the humanities dropped from 17 percent of all degrees in 1967 to just 5 percent in 2015.

Moreover, the current crop of college students is more focused than past generations on getting a college degree that will lead to a good job. More and more students are choosing to major in business, biology, or economics, while philosophy majors are becoming an endangered species.

The liberal arts colleges have responded to this threat by slashing tuition prices for incoming first-year students. On average,  the colleges are only collecting half their posted tuition rates. Colleges hoped to attract more students by lowering tuition, but that strategy hasn't worked for many of them.

Of course, the liberal arts colleges aren't the only sector of higher education facing enrollment declines. As Conley pointed out, the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education has seen its public institutions lose 20 percent of their enrollments in less than 10 years.

Increasingly, families are looking to more affordable public universities for their children's college education and eschewing the small, private liberal arts schools. The obscure, non-elite liberal arts colleges are suffering the most, and several have closed in recent years.

"I don't see these trends changing," Conley wrote, "especially when coupled with stagnating income and the resulting pressure on a family's return-on-investment calculus." In short, he summarized, "Disruption is here to stay."

I agree with Mr. Conley's forthright assessment of liberal arts education; and personally, I think it is doomed. Liberal arts colleges were founded to educate students in the humanities, literature, history, and philosophy; but few students appreciate those fields of study. Furthermore, the liberal arts have been balkanized, as faculty obsess on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation so that there is no longer even a broad consensus about what constitutes a liberal arts education.

In my view, I think the small, liberal arts colleges should prepare for a dignified death because they are going to die anyway. They need to develop contingency plans for placing their students in other institutions when they close and they need to make the best provision they can for laid-off faculty members--many of whom will be unable to find new jobs. After all, what university wants to hire a middle-aged philosophy professor?

This is a sad turn of events, and I do not think the liberal arts colleges brought this calamity on themselves. Rather they are like the blacksmiths of the early twentieth century, who were put out of work by Henry Ford's cars.

I don't have a solution to this existential crisis among the small, private schools. But I have some advice for students who are choosing a college. Don't enroll at an expensive, obscure, private college. Get your degree from a reputable public institution.

And if you are a newly minted Ph.D. looking for your first academic job, don't go to work at a small liberal-arts college. Even if you get tenure at some out-of-the-way little school in New England or the Midwest, that won't keep you from being laid off. And once you lose that tenured job at a college that was closed, you will find it damned hard to get another one.