Newbury College, a small liberal arts college located near Boston, will likely close at the end of the spring 2019 semester, the college announced Friday.
In a statement on the college's website, Newbury President Joseph Chillo said that while the university is still exploring partnerships that could allow it to remain open, "it is in the best interests of our students, prospective students, faculty and staff to notify them [of the expected closure] immediately, so they can make the best decisions for their future."
Chillo said "weighty financial challenges" stemming from cost and demographic changes, which are affecting small liberal arts colleges broadly, drove the decision to close. Newbury is still formalizing teach-out plans, which Chillo said would include options to complete similar programs at other colleges, on-campus admissions events with other institutions, Q&A briefings and information about student records.
Newbury's decision to give advance notice contrasts with the abrupt nature of another nearby college's closure this past spring. Mount Ida College shuttered in May after plans to merge with the nearby Lasell College fell through. Now, a handful of former Mount Ida students are suing the college, saying officials knew it faced financial insolvency as early as 2014 and didn't inform students of the situation.
The students are claiming lost credits and access to financial aid and degree programs as damages resulting from the sudden closure which, they say, gave them little time to "meaningfully consider" transfer options.
In Newbury's case, the college was put on probation by its accreditor in August due to financial concerns that included a 10% budget gap, The Boston Globe reported. Enrollment fell by nearly one-quarter from 2012 to 2016 at Newbury, which gets nearly 75% of revenue from tuition and fees. At the time, Chillo told The Globe the college was considering partnerships and real estate deals as well as ways to lower student costs in order to remain open.
Rising costs, shrinking public funding and declining tuition revenue brought on by falling enrollment are causing small colleges — like Newbury and Mount Ida — to close their doors, according to a July Moody's report. The rate of closures among this group is trending upward from five in 2015 to an expected 15 per year in 2019 or 2020. Education Dive's college consolidation tracker shows roughly a dozen such institutions have closed since 2016.
A more recent report from credit rating agency Fitch forecasts that higher ed consolidation "may accelerate" among bottom-tier colleges through mergers, acquisitions, affiliations and even closures. Analysts credited a shift in demographics, demand and funding.
There are dramatic differences in enrollment between top- and bottom-tier institutions, according to The Wall Street Journal, which in February examined enrollment data from its own ranking of public and private colleges with more than 1,000 students from 1996 to 2011. While overall enrollment increased 37%, it decreased by 2% for the bottom 20% of colleges.
Colleges in the Northeast and Midwest are particularly vulnerable to enrollment declines due to demographic shifts, according to The Journal.