Mills College in Oakland, California, is one of the few women’s colleges in California. On March 17, 2021, the institution announced that it will be closing, no longer enrolling new-first-year undergraduate students after fall 2021.
Mills College opened in 1852, just two years after California became a state. Even though the school survived the effects of both world wars, the recent pandemic affected Mills College in terms of declines in enrollment, operating losses, and unexpected challenges.
In fact, the school experienced financial difficulties even before this year. In 2017, “Mills College declared a 'financial emergency,' laying off several tenured professors, due to 'five years of multimillion-dollar shortfalls and enrollment declines.” In addition, “Mills College was facing a $3 million deficit against its approximately $50 million annual budget.”
According to President Elizabeth Hillman, “Today, because of the economic burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural changes across higher education, and Mills’ declining enrollment and budget deficits, Mills must begin to shift away from being a degree-granting college and toward becoming a Mills Institute that can sustain Mills’ mission.” After closing, Mills College plans to transition to an institute that promotes women’s leadership.
This heart-touching announcement comes at an interesting time as the number of applicants to popular universities has hit a record high.
Harvard saw a 42% increase in applicants.
Columbia saw a 51% increase in applicants.
UPenn saw a 34% increase in applicants.
MIT saw a 66% increase in applicants.
UCLA saw a 28% increase in applicants.
Actually, if we compare UCLA and Mills College side-by-side, we see some incredible differences.
Student Population: 46,000 vs. 1,000
Applications Received: 109,000 vs. 850 (down 15%)
Students Admitted: 15,400 vs. 710
Admit Rate: 14% vs. 84%
“Some experts are predicting that hundreds of small colleges across the country could be at risk of shutting their doors soon. However, industry leaders argue that such forecasts are overly alarmist and that there will not be any sudden surge of campus closures or mergers in the private college sector.
Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, a group of 656 schools including Mills, said he anticipated ‘there might be a small increase in the number of colleges that close in the coming year’ because of issues exacerbated by the pandemic. But he said he does not expect ‘an epidemic of colleges going over the cliff.’ The number of small colleges closing or merging per year have varied between zero and 10 annually over the past couple of decades, even during the Great Recession, he noted.”
As we see more students applying to certain schools, we can accurately predict that admit rates will continue to plummet as colleges do not and can not physically expand to accommodate. Unfortunately, as popular colleges become more and more popular, we may continue to see students flocking to them, leaving less popular colleges behind. Students need to consider how they can separate themselves from the increasingly larger pool of applicants. Identifying unique factors, experiences, and personal statements will be paramount.