The only option for small private colleges in 2023: Adapt or die

At least four colleges have recently announced their plans to close at the end of the current academic year.

While undergraduate enrollment has begun to climb back to pre-pandemic figures, small colleges are still failing and many more are in the danger zone.

The Common App recently discovered freshman applications in 2022-23 have increased by over 900,000 (or about 20%) compared to 2019-20, yet the National Student Clearinghouse observed that overall undergraduate enrollment is down 0.6%. Lakhani Coaching president and founder Hafeez Lakhani believes this is due to a surge in applications to a small pool of schools.

“For brand-name colleges, the demand is off the charts,” said Lakhani, according to CNBC. “It’s never been harder to get in.”

With rising inflation and a new generation of students shrewder than ever about selecting colleges from which degrees equate to workforce competitiveness, students are opting for less-expensive public schools. Students hailing from the country’s wealthiest zip codes are turning to battle-tested Ivy League schools with proven track records in student success. Small, private institutions that lack the “brand name” or competitive edge are stuck in the middle.

As a result, they’re drying out fast. At least four schools have recently announced their plans to close down after the current academic year. Among them are Presentation College (S. Dak.), Cazenovia College (N.Y.), Holy Names University (Calif.) and Living Arts College (N.C.).


More from UB: Financially strapped Cazenovia College to close at end of 2022-23 school year

Amrit Ahluwalia, senior director of content & strategic insights at higher ed tech company Modern Campus believes that as more students opt for larger schools when chasing a traditional higher education program, medium-band schools and below need to change the way they operate to survive.

One of those solutions is engaging a new audience.

“What are you doing to serve new audiences? Are you expanding your breadth of programming designed for working professionals? For those who are looking for new career pathways?” he said. “Adults are a historically underserved audience by higher ed institutions, but their numbers are growing, while numbers of traditional learners are shrinking.”

And if small colleges want to continue enrolling traditional students, they need to begin marketing to them as a business would to a consumer.

“What are you doing to attract and engage prospective traditional students? Are you sharing information like career outcomes when they hit your website? Do you make it easy for them to find your programs?” he said. “It’s critical to treat students like the consumers they are to stand out.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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