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  • Writer's pictureDina

A Decreasing Number of Colleges – How it Affects Admissions

The days of publishing newsworthy federal data on college admissions are basically gone, as the National Student Information Clearinghouse begins to provide more up-to-date information, which is provided quarterly.

The U.S. Department of Education's comprehensive higher education data system is still the best source of data on many other aspects of U.S. higher education. Its latest data show that the higher education industry continues to shrink, and the for-profit industry is no longer the only shrinking industry.

The decrease in the number of two- and four-year public universities, and a smaller percentage decrease in the number of four-year private nonprofit universities (0.8%, a decrease of 13 colleges), may reflect a slight but significant number of closings. There has been more instances of merger of institutions or merger of multiple public institutions into a single institution, as has happened in Maine and Connecticut in recent years. In New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Vermont, similar mergers are taking place or are under discussion.

Mergers between two private non-profit institutions occur more frequently, but are still rare, because most of these mergers have caused one of the universities to largely disappear from public view. Mergers in higher education are more like acquisitions than peer mergers, and the most troubled independent universities may close rather than merge. In recent months, Northeastern University announced plans to absorb Mills College, Judson College, Becker College and Concordia College in New York have been closed.

Major rating agencies began predicting in the middle of the last decade that the number of closed colleges could triple, from about 5 to 6 per year (the average for most of the 1990s and 2000s) to about 15 or more.

The massive influx of federal recovery funds in the past 12 months, especially the US bailout plan, has provided a lifeline to universities (if not hundreds) facing financial stress prior to the global pandemic, many of which have suffered heavy losses.

The main takeaway in regards to college admissions is simple: fewer institutions mean fewer spots available for potential students, resulting directly in more competition and lower admit rates. However, other research has shown that declines in enrollment have not largely affected the more popular schools, namely those in the top 50 in the US News Rankings. With that in mind, it’s important to keep an eye on how and if the consolidation of universities will continue to affect other schools.

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