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The College Choice Blog

Private Colleges in Distress


Apr 3

Despite the rise in applications to many of the country’s most highly selective colleges and universities, a significant number of small, mostly regional, private liberal arts colleges are suffering and the future is daunting.  Inside Higher Ed recently reported the following:


“Some private colleges that managed to weather the recession are finding new troubles.


So they are announcing layoffs, cutting programs and more. Almost all of these small to mid-sized privates are tuition-dependent and lack large endowments. National declines in the number of traditional college-age population mean students just aren't showing up to privates, which are facing competition from public colleges that are more stable now than a few years ago and the reality that privates cannot afford to indefinitely lure students by cutting prices with generous financial aid packages. And this could become a huge problem.

College presidents, private college trade groups and higher ed consultants blame a confluence of long- and short-term trends for battering some private colleges, particularly the small to mid-sized privates that depend on tuition dollars because they don't have significant endowments.


It’s hard to tell if there is an existential threat brewing that could close a significant number of colleges, as some pundits have grandly predicted. But a sampling of the cuts — primarily driven by falling enrollment — suggests serious challenges for many institutions.


The outside causes of recent troubles are numerous: a decline in high school graduates, worries about loan debt, students looking at college programs that would seem to ensure a job after college, new technology, competition from for-profit colleges, a decline in the amount of government aid, the recent economic downturn, the bond market and, because of some rebounds in the economy, a loss of graduate students coming back to college to get new skills.


Private colleges have their own unique challenges, too: small endowments mean they depend on enrollment to bring in tuition dollars, they have smaller class sizes so can’t subsidize operations with large lectures, they traditionally have mostly tenured faculty, they are often in rural areas with shrinking populations and they are perceived as being unaffordable.”




Most Generous Colleges

When searching for colleges that offer the most in financial aid, we know to jump first to the most highly selective, which reject the vast majority of their applicants. But it is heartening to learn that there are others that provide excellent aid and accept the majority of their applicants. Lynn O’Shaughnessy of The College Solution has done the research. The following colleges offer to meet 100% of demonstrated need, with those in bold type offering 94%.

. Amherst College (MA)
. Barnard College (NY)
. Bates College (ME)
. Boston College (MA)
. Brown University (RI)
. Bryn Mawr College (PA)
. Bowdoin College (ME)
. Bucknell University (PA)
. California Institute of Technology
. Carleton College (MN)
. Claremont McKenna College (CA)
. Clark University (MA)
. Colby College (ME)
. Colgate University (NY)
. College of the Holy Cross (MA)
. College of Wooster (OH)
. Colorado College (CO)
. Columbia University (NY)
. Connecticut College (CT)
. Cornell University (NY)
. Davidson College (NC)
. Denison University (OH)
. Dickinson College (PA)
. Duke University (NC)
. Dartmouth College (NH)
. Emory University (GA)
. Franklin and Marshall College (PA)
. Franklin W. Olin College
. Georgetown University (DC)
. Gettysburg College (PA)
. Grinnell College (IA)
. Hamilton College (NY)
. Harvey Mudd College (CA)
. Haverford College (PA)
. Harvard University (MA)
. Johns Hopkins University (MD)
. Kenyon College (OH)
. Lafayette College (PA)
. Lehigh University (PA)
. Macalester College (MN)
. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MA)
. Middlebury College (VT)
. Mount Holyoke College (MA)
. Northwestern University (IL)
. Oberlin College (OH)
. Occidental College (CA)
. Pitzer College (CA)
. Pomona College (CA)
. Princeton University (NJ)
. Reed College (OR)
. Rice University (TX)
. Saint John’s College (NM)
. Saint Olaf College (MN)
. Scripps College (CA)
. Sewanee: The University of the South (TN)
. Smith College (MA)
. Stanford University (CA)
. Swarthmore College (NY)
. Thomas Aquinas College (CA)
. Trinity College (CT)
. Tufts University (MA)
. Tulane University (LA)
. Union College (NY)
. University of Chicago (IL)
. University of Notre Dame (IN)
. University of Pennsylvania (PA)
. University of Richmond (VA)
. University of Rochester (NY)
. University of Southern California
. Vanderbilt University (TN)
. Vassar College (NY)
. Wabash College (IN)
. Wake Forest University (NC)
. Washington and Lee University (VA)
. Washington University, St. Louis, (MO)
. Wellesley College (MA)
. Wesleyan University (MA)
. Williams College (MA)
. Wheaton College (MA)
. Yale University (CT)

Early Admission Results

We’re fast approaching the final days of colleges handing out their decisions for Early Decision, Early Action and Restrictive Early Action applications.  Some students and their parents are excitedly celebrating an acceptance, while others are confronting the sadness – and sometimes disbelief – that comes with the denial decision.  Still others find themselves in an uncomfortable limbo, having been deferred to the regular decision round.  For those who find themselves in these latter categories, it can be daunting to digest the news, put it into perspective, pick up and proceed to complete the college admissions process and wait until spring to receive even more decisions.


But this is what must happen.


For most students, choosing a college is the first truly independent decision they make.  They work hard in school for many years, prepare for and take strenuous tests, participate in multiple extracurricular activities, write multiple drafts of essays, and then spend countless hours completing and submitting applications.  When they are thoughtful, students apply to a mix of colleges that will fit their academic and social needs.  They choose the colleges to which to apply, but they do not choose where they are ultimately granted admission.  That is the sole prerogative of the colleges and it can sometimes seem quite mysterious.


Though college admission is not necessarily a mystery, it is complex.  A student can easily research the academic standards of a particular college (median GPA and ACT/SAT scores) to see if they fall within admissible standards.  But after that, things become much less clear.  There is something called “institutional priorities”, which means the particular goals a college has for shaping its entering class, and those priorities are not shared with the public.  They can include things like needing a particular symphonic instrument for orchestra, or a second base player, more students from the Prairie States, and frequently underrepresented students.


It is important to remember – critical really – that there is never just one perfect school for any student.  There are many schools that will turn out to be “perfect” in terms of offering that student an exciting, challenging and fulfilling four years of college.  Helping students remember this fact is the job of parents, counselors and teachers who assist them during this process.


Students will remember the colleges that accepted them and those that didn’t.  What matters, though, is how they respond to the decisions they receive.  That is truly an independent, adult action.