All the Whining about Colleges Is Getting Old

Mount Ida College is the latest college to close.  It was like throwing gasoline on a fire. The whining has grown in intensity. The articles are flying off the presses (or blogs). Enough already!

You’d think the closure of a college was the end of the world. I recall what it was like when the board of Sweet Briar College voted to close the college. People blew their top. Which is fine. Personally, I don’t care how exercised anyone gets when their beloved alma mater fails, or how much money they want to toss at a failing enterprise. But it’s all the whining and refusal to accept reality that gets old. (Yes, I realize I’m whining about the whining. But there’s a larger point.)

Many colleges closed in the last century and many more will close in this one, no matter how much people moan and complain about it. You would think the closure of a college was an innately bad thing. It isn’t. In fact, not enough colleges close. More of them should close.

I have no doubt students would be better off if more colleges closed. There are some really lousy colleges out there. If we cared more about the students, we’d want those colleges to close.

There are other colleges that simply can’t make a go of it financially. It’s simple math, really. You have to generate enough revenue to cover your expenses. But that’s simply not possible in certain cases.

Admittedly, certain colleges stretch out the dying process by cutting their expenses to the bone. Their roofs leak, their HVAC systems are held together with duct tape, their sidewalks are a hazard, their staff is working for peanuts, their programs are outdated. There are all kinds of hacks a college can employ to remain on life support for a long period of time. But is it in the best interest of the students to attend such a school?

It’s rare the voices of higher ed and sentimental alumni can be heard asking that question. Instead, the voices are concerned only with the survival of the institution. The interests of the students be damned.

Like it or not:

  • There are too many colleges in America. There are way too many in certain regions such as the Northeast and Midwest.
  • Scale matters. A small college can’t disburse its costs over enough paying students. IT expenses alone can put a small college at a distinct disadvantage. Administration is another scalable expense that disadvantages the small college.
  • Sports programs attract students but impose a heavy financial burden on small colleges.
  • The academic programs at many of these schools are stale or obsolete. Some of these colleges are stuck in the 19th century. They’ve shown little or no ability or willingness to adapt.

If your college is struggling financially, it may be that it’s an inevitable casualty of demographics in your market or, as with women’s colleges, a casualty of the times. If that’s the case, then celebrate your past and wind it down. In an orderly fashion. Without all the histrionics. And without pulling the rug out from under unsuspecting students.

On the other hand, if your college is struggling because it’s a hostage to obsolete educational and financial models, then get your act together and make the necessary changes. And if the faculty or alumni obstruct and are unwilling to adapt, then close it down. The world will be just fine without another failing or obstinate institution.

The vast majority of colleges can survive. And most of them could thrive. With the right vision. The right leadership. And the right plan. Unfortunately, none of these things is in abundance in the world of higher ed. People are too busy whining. And sticking their fingers in the dikes.

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