My article, published in the March-April, 2013 edition of The Futurist magazine, the official publication of the World Future Society.
THE END OF THE MEDIOCRE PRIVATE COLLEGE
On May 18, 2012, the President of Chester College in Chester, New Hampshire announced that the small arts-oriented college was going to close for good at the end of the semester. Last-ditch fundraising efforts and finger-pointing at the school’s administration were natural parts of the school’s final days as the reality of poor finances and low enrollment finally took its toll. Nearby colleges of similar educational types graciously (but eagerly) welcomed Chester’s student transfers, generously offering “the same tuition, board and fees” as the closing college.
The title of this article is not intended to cast aspersions toward the academic quality of Chester. It would take more than some Monday-morning quarterbacking to properly assess all the factors that led to the closing. However, in most cases (and it appears to be the case with Chester College), the biggest obstacle to overcome is financial. Being cash-poor and deep in debt is harder to cure than creating an academic revival.
The lack of both short-term and long-term financial sustainability has become pervasive in the ranks of small colleges. The “mediocrity” related to poor finances, once achieved, is very difficult to overcome. In many other situations, the mediocrity is truly academic and that aspect puts those schools at a competitive disadvantage related to trends that are now coming into play. Either or both of these factors threaten the existence of hundreds of private colleges across the U.S. But since the onset of the economic slowdown four years ago, the weak signals that were emerging have become full-blown trends that will soon have huge ramifications for higher education in the U.S.