Can students recover when campus closures dim their college prospects?

"Their school closing effectively closed the doors on those students' educational journeys," says executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Center.

A campus closure can be a heartbreaking experience for students, alumni and college communities. And when it happens suddenly, without warning, it can do lasting academic damage, throwing a student’s education wildly off track.

Abrupt shutdowns are far more likely to affect students at for-profit institutions. But wherever they occur, students are far less likely to reenroll or complete a credential when campus leadership has not made plans for them to continue their education at another institution, according to “Investigating the Impacts of College Closures on Student Outcomes,” an analysis released today by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

Less than half (47.1%) of students whose colleges closed reenrolled at a postsecondary institution. “Their school closing effectively closed the doors on those students’ educational journeys,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, said, adding that more campus closures are likely in the coming years.

Half of 467 institutions were two-year for-profit, private schools in the report’s sample of closures between 2004 and 2000. The next largest batch, 28%, were four-year for-profits. And while the majority closed with teach-out agreements and record retention policies in place, those schools tended to be small—enrolling only an average of 130 students.

The result is that closures were abrupt for more than 100,000 out of 143,000 students impacted in the analysis. This left these students with no chance to transfer or make alternative plans.

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Also, the schools that closed—whether sudden or with advance warning—enrolled larger proportions of students of color, female students and students receiving Pell Grants (compared to institutions that remained open). “This study shows that any college closure is damaging to student success, leaving too many learners—more than half—without a viable path to fulfilling their educational dreams,“ Shapiro said in a statement. “But the extremely poor outcomes for students who experienced abrupt closures are particularly worrisome.”

The impacts of closures on students include:

  • Of those who reenrolled, a little more than one-third earned a postsecondary credential. Just more than half left without earning a credential after reenrolling.
  • Students who reenrolled within one to four months were the most likely to earn a credential.
  • Hispanic and Black students who experienced abrupt closure were far less likely to earn a credential.
  • Reenrollment rates were highest among women, white students, and traditional college-age students.
  • Students who experienced an abrupt closure had lower reenrollment and completion rates. When the closure was orderly, reenrollment rates were nearly identical across the private four-year sector.

“The particularly poor outcomes are especially harmful for minoritized students of color enrolled in the for-profit sector,” Rob Anderson, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, said in a statement. “These results reinforce calls for improving state authorization processes and strengthening the financial monitoring of institutions to prevent, prepare for, and respond to college closures.”

Almost 12,000 campuses closed between 2004 and 2016, according to the Postsecondary Education Participants System.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of University Business and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for University Business, he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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