Everyone knew it was coming. The Echo Boom in the US population was set to peak around the year 2013. After holding steady for a year or two, the number of students graduating from high school would begin a steady decline. That decline is now in full swing and many colleges are longing for the days when there were more students than places to put them.
The hardest hit seems to be small private colleges. With tuition costs higher than state schools of similar size, it can be a hard sell to convince a money-conscious family to shoulder the extra expense. Discounting tuition or increasing financial aid can have a positive effect on enrollment numbers in the short term, but is an unsustainable solution.
These are the times when flexibility and innovation will determine which schools thrive and which schools fight for their very survival. After reading a piece written by Jon Marcus about Ohio Wesleyan, I believe that they will be all right.
I visited this rural college a few years ago and was impressed with the faculty and students who greeted me. The approach they use to educate young adults was already a little unconventional, but they are further expanding on the things that make them attractive. New majors that prepare students for emerging career areas along with expanded internship and study abroad opportunities have had a positive impact on their current enrollment numbers. More money is also being put into financial aid to attract the price-conscious as well as the economically challenged student. Also, athletic programs are being added to target specific populations that are lacking on campus.
Colleges that recognize the possible effects of a reduced student applicant pool are making changes that will preserve their place as a popular destination. Those who are slow to react may find themselves with too few students to function. There were 400 campuses with room to accept more students on May 1st of 2017, the deadline for returning acceptance notices. These numbers will get much worse before they get better.