Your School Might Accept You, Then Shut Down
Every prestigious American college likes to advertise that it's been around long enough for George Washington's cousin's bridge partner to have been part of their first graduating class. So we tend to think of our local colleges as part of the landscape, like a more dignified version of the White Castle that's served four generations despite the obvious mold.
But nearly 100 American colleges have closed or consolidated since 2016 (actual accredited colleges, not sleazy for-profit ones). And that trend's not going to slow anytime soon. No, we're not going to lose Harvard, but even the Greendales and Tekerson Techs of the world are big job creators. Whether it's an on-campus position or the combination coffee shop and liquor store just across the road, they might represent the only major center of employment for their communities.
Why are they closing if they're so important? Because college enrollment dropped about 11% across the 2010s. Public, private, STEM, humanities -- down across the board. Broadly, this isn't necessarily a bad sign, as people skip or postpone college when there are more job opportunities out there. A falling birth rate is also a factor. But the biggest issue is funding. States aren't giving colleges enough money to balance out those enrollment downturns, tuition costs rise accordingly, grants and scholarships can't keep up, not as many people can afford to go (especially among those who might need this education the most), and before you know it, you've got yourself a cycle.
Daniel Wood/NPRWhat a weird coincidence, the chart for the price of tuition is this in reverse.
Not everyone has to go to college, but just because an economy has a lot of jobs it doesn't mean those jobs are good. Degrees are linked to coming out of recessions unscathed, because a job that pays the bills month to month won't be enough to keep a house or raise a family if you suddenly find yourself unemployed again. So there are ideas to improve enrollment rates, from encouraging adults to go back to school to running more online programs.
But meanwhile, students have to figure out what to do when they're told that their school is vanishing halfway through their degree. Most schools are planning their closures so that everyone can complete their programs or transfer with relative ease, but there are also cases where financial disasters are hidden right up until students need to figure out what they can do with 18 months of sociology credits from a school with a phone number that's now answered by a weed dispensary.
You're Competing With Students Who Buy Their Way In
Do you remember the celebrity college admissions scandal, before 50,000 other scandals pushed it out of the headlines? We all had a good laugh at the expense of arrogant actors, but it's not like it actually put a stop to rich parents buying their idiot children places in top schools. The enrollment decline is making that money even more attractive, and not everyone is going to get caught.
Speaking of idiot children, Jared Kushner went to Harvard despite having neither the GPA nor the SAT score to justify his acceptance. What he did have was a father who donated $2.5 million, and so he got a slot that could have gone to a student capable of getting in on merit. (Lucky for Jared that his dad got his wallet out before he was convicted of tax evasion and witness tampering.)