These 2 groups will study impact of permanent closures

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association will look at the potential fallout for students.
By: | January 26, 2021
Gmast/Getty Images

What is the impact on students after a college or university decides to close its doors for good? Without the data to track those affected, it has been difficult to quantify.

But thanks to a new deal struck Tuesday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, institution leaders and the public might begin to know more about the fallout in the coming years.

The two groups are combining on a 24-month research project they say will show the effects of those “closures on student persistence and completion.” Using data analysis, they hope to not only show the outcomes of decisions made by those colleges but also be able to give policymakers and other leaders a chance to better to respond to them.

They say there is no more critical time to perform this study.

“Many higher education institutions find themselves at a crossroads in the wake of the financial calamities caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Though we’ve hoped all will make it through unscathed, a handful of campuses have already shut their doors,” said Rob Anderson, president of SHEEO, which serves the CEOs of postsecondary education boards, their staffs and others. “If more closures are in fact coming, it’s important for researchers, higher education leaders and policymakers to understand the ramifications of these closures on students. Knowing precisely what occurs post-closure and what state and federal policies might do to mitigate the effects on students is imperative.”

An article in Money magazine in late August noted that eight institutions had shuttered since the start of the pandemic. Some smaller private institutions are facing that reality too as a wave of forces, including the pandemic, budget shortfalls, and additional costs conspire to force them to look hard at whether they can survive. A number have cut tuition and fees in attempts to stay viable and competitive. But if endowments are small and those cuts don’t hit the mark with students – or if the pandemic drags on – it might be the end for them.

Unfortunately, if that happens, students will be forced to pick up the pieces. And it is those crucial moments that the Clearinghouse and the Executive Officers Association hope to identify and ultimately help mitigate.

So what will they be looking for? Clearinghouse Executive Director Doug Shapiro provided a window into a number of questions they will be asking:

  • Do students disengage from higher education entirely?
  • Do they stop out only to return later?
  • Do they enroll at a different institution and, if so, what type of institution?
  • Do they earn a credential and, if so, what happens to their time to degree?
  • “How do the answers to these questions vary by the student demographics available in the NSC data?

Shapiro added, “We’re not only going to have descriptive answers, but also we’re going to have causal estimates of their impact that will help policymakers and researchers.”

It will be looking closely too at who is being affected. Are those students able to rebound quickly or perhaps from backgrounds that could hurt them further, including underserved communities and those who are working while attending college?

“It is our hope that the center will provide our members and the larger higher education community with actionable and evidence-based policy recommendations that can equitably increase student success,” said David Tandberg, the Executive Officers Association vice president for policy research and strategic initiatives.


Read more from UB: 436 colleges’ chances at survival charted and Should we believe Scott Galloway’s predictions of soon-to-perish colleges?