According to Inside Higher Ed, The College of Saint Rose is not alone in the sinking ship of colleges floundering on the reefs of change.
From Inside Higher Ed: Saint Rose’s closure was preceded by similar announcements from other institutions this year, including Magdalen College, Lincoln Christian University, Alderson Broaddus University, Alliance University, Cabrini University, Cardinal Stritch University, Finlandia University, Hodges University, Holy Names University, Iowa Wesleyan University, Medaille University, Presentation College and various for-profits. Though it has not announced a closure, the King’s College in New York City has ceased its academic offerings and was stripped of accreditation earlier this year.
For the sake of brevity, I am not going to attempt to outline all the contributing socio-economic factors that are dramatically impacting higher ed these days. Running a college is like running a small country, no easy task. There are near countless factors that contribute to the sustenance of a college. The ultimate expression of success is the ability to attract more students than the college can handle in any given academic year; keeping demand high. But what keeps demand high in higher ed? Where did Saint Rose go wrong, where are all these colleges and many, many others going wrong?
A few years ago, I was privileged to judge marketing and creativity awards in higher ed. These are recruitment campaigns designed to entice college bound students to choose for themselves the “perfect college.” With rare exception, most of these campaigns were undifferentiated. It would be quite easy to remove the names and logos and not be able to tell one from the other. All the same types of pictures of smiling students, shiny new buildings, earnest student – instructor interactions, clubs, events, sports, food porn. All of it the essential table stakes in editorializing the institution.
At some point in the not-too-distant past, colleges began an arms race of infrastructure development. Money was readily available, and loans were easy to get. I can hear the marketplace research, “students and families are wanting a different experience, we need to make these improvements to keep them looking our way.” The rationalizations, no matter how justified and legitimate, failed to grasp the bigger picture, that this is a treadmill that is hard to get off, especially when it becomes what you are selling. And that is exactly what began happening. Colleges began selling shiny new buildings, dormitories as nice as any hotel, state-of-the-art fitness facilities, etc. For institutions without the marketplace momentum and financials to play this game, remaining in contention is going to be a herculean task.
9 years ago, we responded to an RFP from a college, which will remain nameless. During the process, the college held an open Q&A for all those responding to the RFP. There were approximately 30 people in the audience with another dozen or so seated at the front of the room giving the briefing. This is already not a good sign, too many opinions on the selection committee. During the briefing, what became apparent to anyone really listening was that one of the main criteria for a successful candidate was the ability to demonstrate that you could do exactly the type of work that was done before.
When approaching Manhattan, from any direction one is inevitably struck by all the towers of the skyline. Gleaming beacons, with distinctive architectural styles.
Colleges would do well to remember that when someone takes the decision to ride to the top of the Freedom Tower, ultimately the view matters more than the building.