Lessons in Survival from Small Colleges

A Chronicle of Higher Education piece by Lawrence Biemiller describes the paths several small, liberal arts colleges are taking to find financial sustainability. The plight of such schools is well-known, but my take-away from the article is that five practices underscore the more successful transformations:

  1. Increasing the speed at which decisions, even about matters such as curriculum, are made; this is true even in domains that require significant faculty input or consent;
  2. Stopping programs, no matter how beloved, that pulled down the bottom line; e.g., no margin means no mission;
  3. Reducing faculty positions, one of the most painful, but ultimately helpful, of the strategies;
  4. Benchmarking private school tuition at the same level as the flagship campus of the state’s public university (this required re-engineering the budget to hit the price point, as illustrated by Oglethorpe University and Sweet Briar College); and
  5. Changing pedagogical approaches to emphasize project-based and experiential learning (remember our post in this space that everything is progressive now).

Also notable is mention of a consortium among Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire, and UMass at Amherst (all in Massachusetts) to reduce expenses by shared services.

All of the above are interesting case studies for smaller independent K-12 schools.

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