Small U.S. colleges battle death spiral as enrollment drops

Stefanie Botelho's picture
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

At a Dowling College campus on Long Island’s south shore, a fleet of unused shuttle buses sits in an otherwise empty parking lot. A dormitory is shuttered, as are a cafeteria, bookstore and some classrooms in the main academic building.

“There’s a lot of fear here,” said Steven Fournier, a senior who lived in the now-closed dorm for his first three years. “It’s not the same college I arrived at.”

Dowling, which got a failing grade for its financial resources from accreditors last month, epitomizes the growing plight of many small private colleges that depend almost entirely on tuition for revenue. It’s been five years since the recession ended and yet their finances are worsening. Soaring student debt, competition from online programs and poor job prospects for graduates are shrinking their applicant pools.

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