Could the pandemic sound the death knell for the small liberal arts college without a large endowment?

By Maressa Brown
July 29, 2020
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Parents know all too well how the pandemic has shaped and continues to affect academics. The latest blow comes to incoming or current college students. According to WBUR in Boston, educational consultant Edmit recently said that more than one-third of private four-year institutions in the U.S. could be at risk financially. Now, a new analysis, conducted by New York University marketing professor Scott Galloway, has gotten even more specific. Compiling data from various sources, like the U.S. Department of Education, US News & World Report, and Niche.com’s Student Life Scores, Galloway pinpoints which universities and colleges are expected to "perish, "struggle," survive," or "thrive."

Galloway has been vocal about his issues with back-to-campus plans being proposed by institutions. He suggests schools should plan their new terms using online-only classes and get creative with solutions, even if that means taking a devastating financial hit. In a blog post, he published a quadrant-style breakdown of more than 400 U.S. colleges and universities, noting their value compared with their tuition and which are more or less vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Schools' "vulnerability score" stems from how much they receive in endowments and how dependent they are on international students’ tuition and fees. There's also a Google doc that includes data on 440 schools and labels them "perish," "struggle," "survive," or "thrive."

Schools In Danger of Perishing

Nearly 90 schools are in danger of perishing, according to Galloway’s analysis. Among them are:

  • Bard University
  • Brandeis University
  • Hofstra University
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Oberlin College
  • Sarah Lawrence College
  • Skidmore College
  • University of California - Santa Cruz
  • University of Massachusetts - Boston
  • University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth
  • University of Hartford - Dickinson
  • University of New England

Schools In Danger of Struggling

Over 130 schools are listed under this category, including:

  • Belmont University
  • Connecticut College
  • Drake University
  • Goucher College
  • Hartwick College
  • Lewis & Clark College
  • Occidental College
  • Quinnipac University
  • Randolph College
  • Reed College
  • Scripps College
  • Seattle U
  • University of Montana
  • Wheaton College

Schools That Could Survive

Galloway lists 128 schools in this group, including:

  • Boston University
  • Brown University
  • Bryn Mawr
  • Fordham University
  • Lehigh University
  • Pepperdine University
  • Smith College
  • Syracuse University
  • University of California - Davis
  • University of San Francisco

Schools That Could Thrive

Just 88 schools made this list, including:

  • Bowdoin College
  • Cornell University
  • Duke University
  • Harvard University
  • Howard University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Middlebury College
  • Northwestern University
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton University
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Mississippi
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Williams College
  • Yale University

What This Means for Schools Everywhere

While this report might look damning, other experts have pointed out that many schools struggling or on the brink of perishing were having issues prior to COVID-19. Teresa Valerio Parrot, the principal of TVP Communications, a national higher ed crisis and communications firm explains to Parents.com, "Those most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic are small, liberal arts colleges that have limited endowments. Tuition-dependent colleges have been discounting their tuition to bring in the number of students they need to balance their budgets but many still find their budgets in the red. With hesitancy from families to send their students to sometimes remote towns, institutions that already struggled to be relevant and priced attractively pre-pandemic are working twice as hard to make themselves relevant and do so with few savings."

Elmore Alexander, dean emeritus of Bridgewater State University’s Ricciardi College of Business, made a similar observation, writing in an email to the Business Journal, “The cracks in the business models of the schools in the 'struggle' and 'perish' cells were already there and had been for the past several years. Coronavirus has just turned the cracks into chasms."

That certainly would be consistent with the theme cropping up across industries and very clearly in education. Consider the fact that the pandemic has only served to highlight the U.S.' pre-existing child care crisis, which includes child-care employees receiving poverty-level wages. Now, 40 percent of the child care centers in the U.S. say they will be forced to shut down if they don't receive additional public assistance, according to a survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

That said, it's apparent that for students of all ages, the pandemic is set to ravage education—in the fall and beyond. Here's hoping that ultimately, long-term solutions can be found so that these institutions can rise like a phoenix from the ashes, bolster equality, and make education even more accessible for all.

Wondering about the school your child has their eye on? Check Galloway's Google Doc for the entire list of schools.

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