A Boston liberal arts college will close

Newbury College, an American liberal arts campus in the Boston area, will close next year.

Newbury College

An announcement from the campus president appears directly on the college’s main page.  “[W]e intend to cease operations after the Spring 2019 semester.”

What is driving that radical decision?  My readers can guess the answer.   In president Chillo’s words: “financial challenges, the product of major changes in demographics and costs, are the driving factors behind our decision to close at the end of this academic year.”

About those finances: according to a Boston Globe report, “Newbury College has been struggling financially for the past few years. In its annual financial statements, it forecast a $2.8 million cash flow deficit for the fiscal year ending in 2018.”

My readers also know to check for enrollment, and will be unsurprised to find that it was not doing well.  Again, according to the Globe, “[e]nrollment has declined 24 percent over a five-year period, but [Newbury] depends on tuition for 74 percent of its revenue.”  Worse, according to a Globe article from earlier this year, “enrollment has declined 86 percent over the past 20 years.”

Newbury’s statement includes plans to help their current students:

We are working closely with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education and we are in the process of formalizing agreements with area colleges and universities to ensure our students have the best opportunities to continue their studies and to earn their college degree. Closing plans will include options to complete comparable programs at other institutions, admissions events for other institutions to come to campus and meet our students, information about credit transfers and student records, question and answer briefings, contact information for transition advisors and counselors, as well as any changes to the academic calendar. We will be publishing more details of our closing plans shortly, and there will be regular updates as we move forward.

Let me close with several observations.

First, the state where Newbury resides is already taking policy steps to deal with more college closures.  “Since Mount Ida, state regulators, including the attorney general, have called for more oversight of schools to monitor them before they get to the point of desperation.”  Note that this is Massachusetts.  It’s a very wealthy state, either the 4th , 6th, or 7th richest in America.   It is the most educated state of all, except for DC, according to every single measure and list I Googled.  And they are closing colleges.

Second, once again we come back to the higher education business model depending on students for tuition and fees, and being clobbered once student numbers drop sufficiently.  Demographics, again, power the model and saps it when they change.  

Yes, I’m going to get to Michael Horn’s recent reflection on the predictions he and Clayton Christensen made about college closures.  But I just turned in a 90,000-word manuscript and am fighting a vile head cold, so I’ll have to follow up on that point in an upcoming post.

(thanks to Peter Shea)

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2 Responses to A Boston liberal arts college will close

  1. Mark Nelson says:

    It’s interesting that Newbury College is having the same problems despite not really being a classic liberal-arts college. It’s much newer (founded 1962), and has always explicitly defined itself as a vocational/career-oriented college, not in the tradition of generalist education as traditionally found in American liberal-arts colleges.

    I thought that was worth noting because one of the criticisms sometimes levied at liberal-arts colleges is that they have too old-fashioned an idea of liberal education that isn’t sufficiently career-oriented.

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