- Concerns abound as private nonprofit colleges close their doors, but enrollment in this segment of higher education is holding steady, suggests a new analysis from ListedTech.
- The Canadian market research firm pulled federal data to determine whether enrollment would dip as some of these institutions shut down.
- Despite alarm bells about more nonprofit college closures ahead, most of the lost enrollment in the last decade or so has come from for-profits, which have shuttered with remarkable speed, according to the data.
A rash of high-profile college closures in the last two years has triggered fears that fewer high school graduates, especially in New England, and skyrocketing tuition would cause more small liberal arts institutions to fold.
Predictions as to how many of these colleges would shut down have varied widely, though Moody's most recently forecast that as many as 15 colleges could close annually as of this year or next.
Abrupt closures, as was the case with the Massachusetts-based Mount Ida College, can disadvantage students who selected an institution specifically for its location or program. Most Mount Ida students were offered automatic admission to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, but some were dissatisfied with the alternative because they were given little notice and because of the distance between the two colleges.
The number of private nonprofit colleges in operation shrank from 1,960 in 2017 to 1,930 in 2018, according to the data ListedTech collected from the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). So far this year, at least nine nonprofit four-year colleges have closed or consolidated.
But enrollment at private nonprofits remained relatively flat, from 4.27 million students in 2017 to 4.28 million the next year. Enrollment at these colleges has been rising steadily since at least 2004, the data shows.
The average size of private nonprofit colleges has increased slightly every year, too, with an average of 2,225 students in 2018.
"These students aren't exiting the market," ListedTech founder and CEO Justin Menard said in an interview with Education Dive.
For-profit colleges have diminished the most in the last few years. In 2014, there were about 3,630 active for-profits enrolling a slightly fewer than 2 million students. In 2018, about 2,790 for-profits remained but enrollment plummeted to 1.27 million students.
That sector has seen major collapses in the last five years, among them colleges associated with the Dream Center, as well as Education Corporation of America, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.
The Obama administration cracked down on for-profit colleges after these failures, passing regulations that would punish the institutions that produced graduates with large amounts of debt but limited job prospects. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has since moved to roll back those rules.