How bleak is the future at some small colleges?

Marlboro College will shut its campus and send it students—and its $30 million endowment—to Emerson College in Boston
By: | December 3, 2019
Students finish up a broomball game at Vermont's Marlboro College, which is planning to close and transfer its students and faculty to Emerson College in Boston.Students finish up a broomball game at Vermont's Marlboro College, which is planning to close and transfer its students and faculty to Emerson College in Boston. (Photo: Kelly Fletcher)

At some institutions, it’s as bleak as can be.

A Moody’s analysis has found that leaders at 1 in 5 small private colleges are dealing with serious financial problems, with more institutions likely to close, CNBC reports.

So far, the steepest enrollment declines have concentrated the closures in Northeast and Midwest. “I think we see the higher education sector is in a period of real transformation in terms of how students learn and where they learn,” Susan Fitzgerald, Moody’s associate managing director, told CNBC.

Nearly 500 higher ed leaders cited competition with other colleges and universities as their top concern in a survey released this fall by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Huron Consulting Group, Voice of America reported.


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In Vermont, Marlboro College is planning to close its campus and send it students—and its $30 million endowment and $10 million in real estate holdings—to Emerson College in Boston, Vermont Public Radio reported. Marlboro College opened in 1946.

It’s expected that Marlboro’s faculty and students will be able to continue their higher education journeys at the soon-to-be-formed Marlboro Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College.

“For Marlboro, their legacy will live on, their students will benefit from enhanced educational programs, and their tenured and tenure-track faculty will continue to teach in an environment that supports intellectual creativity, innovation, and experiential learning,” Emerson’s president, Lee Pelton, said in a news release.


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The past year has seen a steady stream of mergers and closures. In October, officials from Roosevelt University in Chicago announced plans to acquire neighbor Robert Morris University, University Business reported. This fall John Marshall Law School in Chicago began operations under its new name, UIC John Marshall Law School, after being acquired by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

David M. Steele-Figueredo, president of Woodbury University in Southern California, wrote in UB earlier this year that changing demographics “keeps me up at night.” He cited statistics that show 2.9 million fewer college students were enrolled in higher education in 2018 than in 2011.

The impact will be felt far beyond higher education. That enrollment decline could lead to a shortfall of 16 million in the number of workers with college credentials by 2025, Steele-Figueredo wrote.


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