The Roe Effect, combined with way-too-high college tuition and fees for a lousy education, the resulting student debt, and underemployment of recent college grads is going to lead to many more colleges closing in the coming years.
A waning number of high school graduates from the Midwest is sparking a college hunt for freshman applicants, with the decline being felt as far away as Harvard and Emory universities.
The drop is the leading edge of a demographic change that is likely to ease competition for slots at selective schools and is already prompting concern among Midwestern colleges.
“You can’t create 18-year-olds in a lab,” said Brian Prescott, director of policy research at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Boulder, Colorado. “Enrollment managers are facing an awful lot of pressure that they can’t do much about.”
Denison University, in Granville, and the College of Wooster, both project about a 13 percent drop from within the state. Ohio residents make up about a quarter of Denison’s student body and about a third at Wooster. Denison and Ohio Wesleyan University have boosted travel outside the state to attract prospective students, especially in California and the Southwest.
A growing number of liberal-arts colleges are supplementing their traditional glossy brochures touting ivy-covered libraries and great-books seminars with more pecuniary pitches: Buy seven semesters, get one free. Apply today, get $2,500 cash back. Free classes after four years.
The schools are adjusting their marketing to attract students at a time when families are struggling to foot the bill for college—and increasingly concerned about the potential payoff. Some of the most aggressive offers come from the most financially vulnerable schools: midtier, private institutions that are heavily dependent on tuition and sit in regions with shrinking pools of college-bound high-school seniors.
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The pressure on liberal-arts schools is coming from several directions. Nationwide, the number of graduating high-school seniors this year is expected to decline to 3.32 million from a projected all-time high of 3.41 million during the 2010-11 school year, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. And fewer college-bound seniors are choosing private four-year schools: Between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of students at those schools dropped to 20% from 22%, according to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.
For students headed to college, tuition is a bigger issue than ever. The average cost of public and private schools jumped 92% between 2001 and 2011, compared with a 27% rise in the consumer-price index. Last year the average amount that students at public colleges paid in tuition, after state and institutional grants and scholarships, climbed 8.3%, the biggest jump on record, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.