Another American college to close

Another American college announced its impending demise.  Once again the campus is located in New England.  Vermont’s Green Mountain College, 185 years old, will cease operations shortly, according to its (last) president.

GMC is a very, very small college.  710 students and 46 faculty members, according to Wikipedia.  724 students, according to US News. Its tag line is now sadly ironic:

What are the reasons for this shut down?  My readers know them well.  President Allen explains:

Despite our noteworthy accomplishments related to social and environmental sustainability, we have not been able to assure the economic sustainability of the College. Financial challenges are impacting liberal arts colleges throughout the country and Green Mountain College is no exception. These 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.

Demographics and finances, as usual.  These are some of the most powerful trends reshaping higher ed.  As one local account put it, “it was a decrease in tuition revenue and an increase in expenses that ended up digging the college into a financial hole.”  How far did that tuition drop?  I can’t find hard dollar numbers, but VTDigger quotes a spokesperson as explaining “[e]nrollment has declined from 775 to 428 students over a six-year period.”  If enrollment drops at an institution largely powered by tuition, the budget gets hammered.

Remember that Green Mountain is private, not receiving any state funds (not that Vermont spends a lot of higher ed).  It also has a very small endowment – $3.1 million, according to US News – so that financial source can’t contribute much.  Its size is also an issue, as it cannot realize the kinds of economies of scale that larger colleges and universities have access to.

What will happen next?

Castleton College (Vermont) will host some Green Mountain students.  Prescott College (Arizona) will host others, and may hire some faculty members:

Prescott will house all of GMC’s student records, hire some of its faculty, and create a center, school or institute to carry the Green Mountain name.

The school’s host town, Poultney, (population circa 3200) economy will take a hit.

The state of Vermont might follow Massachusetts and set up policies to help students in the case other colleges shut down.

Beyond this particular college, we can see the trends that killed GMC at play across much of the United States.  The demographics and financials are dangerous for many colleges and universities.  The elite should be fine.  It’s the lower tier campuses that are especially in danger (check GMC’s US News rank: “#142-#187 in Regional Universities North”).

Readers know I’ve been forecasting about these trends for years.  It gives me no joy to see them manifested in lived experience.  As I’ve said before, if we’re sliding down the wrong slope of peak higher education, there will be a great deal of suffering.

Now is the time for institutions to dare new programs, new pedagogies, new efforts.  This is where a multi-level engagement with technology can bear fruit, from critical digital engagement in traditional classes to more online learning.  This may be when higher ed has to become more political.  This is when inter-campus teaching can shine…

…but I will write more, later on, about the many things colleges and universities can do to survive and prosper.  That might actually be the topic for my next book.  For now, remember the fate of Green Mountain.  I feel for their students, staff, and faculty.

For more, read the very good thoughts from Matt Reed.  Or for very local responses check this Reddit/Vermont thread.

(thanks to many people who shared news and thoughts on this story, including Robin DeRosa)

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2 Responses to Another American college to close

  1. Dahn Shaulis says:

    Bryan,

    I’d like to talk to you about a collaboration to predict the schools most likely to fail.

    The Heightened Cash Monitoring (HCM) lists are insufficient and the PEPS School Closings list is a post-mortem. Moody’s and EY know, but they rarely share information on individual schools.

    https://www.chronicle.com/article/Moody-s-Downgrades-Higher/241983
    https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/06/01/moodys-declining-enrollment-squeezing-tuition-revenue
    http://cdn.ey.com/parthenon/pdf/perspectives/P-EY_Strength-in-Numbers-Collaboration-Strategies_Paper_Final_082016.pdf

    I have reached out to the US Department of Education, including IPEDS, for assistance.

    We could develop a list from IPEDS based on a few variables: (1) enrollment below 1000 (2) 5 consecutive years of enrollment losses, and (3) 5 consecutive years of revenue declines, and (4) revenue declines of more than 20% over the last 5 years.

    Once we get that list, we can dig deeper into financials, like endowment numbers, and student outcomes like student loan repayment rates.

    I told Dan Boylan at the Washington Times to contact you about a short story that just appeared. Let me know if you’d like to reach him. Wish more media outlets would report on this College Meltdown.

    https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/jan/23/private-colleges-close-due-rising-expenses-fix-end/

    We can get more inside information by posting on the layoff sites for the schools that are downsizing, merging, and closing. For example, I just posted this on the Green Mountain College layoff.com site.

    https://www.thelayoff.com/gmc?sort=active

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