Drop in Students, Income Squeezes Small Colleges

By Lucia Mouat, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 1990 | Go to article overview

Drop in Students, Income Squeezes Small Colleges


Lucia Mouat, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE small private liberal arts college is having a harder time finding both students and funds these days.

Growing competition from public colleges and universities is a key reason.

More in the declining pool of potential first-year students are choosing lower-cost public colleges. While enrollment in 1950 was almost evenly split between public and private colleges, four out of five students now go to public institutions.

Those same public colleges and universities, once supported wholly by government funds, now aggressively court many of the same corporations and foundations long tapped solely by private colleges.

Richard Rosser, president of the National Institute of Independent Colleges and Universities, notes that some states actually require public universities to match legislative contributions through fund-raising.

Mr. Rosser says that while private colleges in the mid-'70s got two-thirds of all corporate gifts to higher education, they now get about half the total. That preference for public institutions moves to a 10 to 1 ratio - three times more per student - when corporate tax payments are included.

The amount of federal student grant aid is significantly less. State help has barely kept pace with inflation.

Small private colleges have had to put more of their income into financial aid to keep enrollment diverse. Half of all grants to needy students to attend private colleges now come from the colleges themselves.

The cumulative effect of these shifts in enrollment, corporate giving, and student aid adds significantly to the small college's financial burden.

"These new factors are going to make it increasingly difficult for a number of private institutions (to survive) unless we get more help at the federal and state level," says Richard Rosser.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see a rather large number of private institutions go under in the next 10 years," says Charles Anderson, senior staff associate with the American Council on Education.

A recent report on the essential role of private higher education by an Education Commission of the States task force agrees that the small liberal arts college faces the most serious financial pressure.

"That was the sector we felt was at greatest risk," says Aims McGuinness, the commission's director of higher education policy. …

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