Article

Private College and Universities Are Facing Serious Challenges

It’s a new day for private colleges and universities, and despite these potential pitfalls, higher education institutions can continue to grow and succeed well into the future with careful planning. They key is to be aware of these new challenges and variables, and then to plan for them well in advance.

Learn More
< Back to Insights
Insights  <  Private College and Universities Are Facing Serious Challenges

It’s a new day for private colleges and universities, and despite these potential pitfalls, higher education institutions can continue to grow and succeed well into the future with careful planning. They key is to be aware of these new challenges and variables, and then to plan for them well in advance.

For centuries New England has proudly called itself home to some of the finest private higher education institutions in the country. But lately, some serious challenges have emerged on this landscape, with a noticeable impact on these institutions.

Many have had to change their strategies in terms of recruiting students, while others have been forced to merge with other schools or, in a few instances, close their doors. Reports show that since 2016, more than 20 four-year liberal arts colleges and universities have either closed or merged with other institutions, many of them located here in New England.

So this is indeed an issue that is hitting the world of private higher education, and it is not likely to go away soon. Why is this happening, and what can these schools do to keep it from happening to them?

There are four major challenges that are impacting private colleges and universities across the country:

Competition for Applicants

As demographics and options have changed, colleges and universities have found themselves having to compete harder than ever to attract students to their campuses. The additional resources required to reach new students takes an obvious toll on the institution’s bottom line.

Mounting Student Debt

This is a concern that continues to grow. Student debt is increasing (roughly $35,000 per student nationally, according to reports) and when combined with the rising tuition costs at so many of these schools, the combination can prove prohibitive.

Building and Grounds “Arms Race”

Every higher education institution wants to have state-of-the-art buildings and infrastructure, but this is growth that has to take place organically, affordably and strategically. Unfortunately, many schools feel the need to compete and “keep up” with similar schools who are investing in their properties, even when they cannot afford it.

Alternatives to Four-Year Colleges

Finally, there is the simple fact that four-year college isn’t for everyone, and unlike in years past—when these students still felt pressured to attend four-year colleges or universities—there are many more solid options available to them now. Trade schools, technical schools and two-year colleges have all become viable career paths for many people, and it is leading them away from a traditional four-year higher education.

Fortunately, despite these challenges, there are steps that institutions can take to not just keep their doors open, but to remain vital—and to avoid drastic steps like major cuts in programs, mergers or even closing.

Look Inward and Assess Strengths

No matter how high the quality, it’s hard for a private college or university to be all things to all people. Institutions should take a hard look at what they do best—is it education? Is it nursing? Is it engineering or sciences?—and focus on those strengths and those students who could best benefit from them.

Take Advantage of Data

So many industries these days depend on data to help them thrive, and higher education is no different. Institutions that closely examine specific data and important differentiators, and use this to measure success, are the ones that tend to come out ahead.

Examine Space Requirements

Remember the issue of the “arms race” for buildings and ground? One strategic way to avoid this is to assess exactly what is needed for physical space, and whether certain programs can be moved to the online space. In 2019, it’s simply not all about bricks and mortar anymore, and many schools have found profitable success by offering classes and programs in the digital realm.

Creative Partnerships

Many on-campus services—from parking to dining halls to maintenance, to name just a few—are ripe for partnerships with outside companies to save money. Many institutions have found success here by thinking outside the box, and others should consider it.

Proceed With Caution on Capital Projects

Every capital project deserves close examination before proceeding. Is there true educational value? Does it play to your strengths? Is it not only affordable, but will it drive growth? Many times the answers to these questions are “yes,” but they need to be asked first.

It’s a new day for private colleges and universities, and despite these potential pitfalls, higher education institutions can continue to grow and succeed well into the future with careful planning. They key is to be aware of these new challenges and variables, and then to plan for them well in advance.

Continue the Conversation with Our Team
Get in touch with us.

Contact Us