Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Report on college enrollment paints grim picture for Northeast universities

By Chris Kornichuk

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A survey released last month by the credit ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service stated that out of responses generated from 515 universities, roughly half expect a decline in full-time student enrollments in the near future. According to the survey, one-third of the universities expect decreased or stagnant tuition revenues.

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

“The cumulative effects of years of depressed family income and net worth, as well as uncertain job prospects for many recent graduates, are combining to soften student market demand at current tuition prices,” said Moody’s Analyst Emily Schwarz, lead author of the survey’s report.

And the Northeast may be especially at risk, according to Jason Lane, director of education studies at the Rockefeller Institute.

“The Northeast has more public and private colleges than anywhere in the country, and is dealing with factors such as an aging population, lack of jobs and less young people having children. There’s simply less pull to that part of the country now,” he said.

Lane cited the potential drop in high school graduates as a major factor.

A recent report by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, titled “Knocking at the College Door,” suggests that the national number of high school graduates peaked at 3.4 million with the 2011 graduates, and will decrease to between 3.2 and 3.3 million graduates until fall 2020, after which the number of graduates will rise again, but remain under the 2011 high.

The Northeast, in particular, is predicted to be hardest hit, with the number of high school graduates decreasing by 10 percent between 2009 and 2028.

“Those institutions that don’t learn to adapt to the new reality will likely close doors by the end of the decade,” said Lane in a report.

“Students will face increased competition, funding decreases in higher education will offset tuition and we will see tuition hikes,” he said.

But some state governments are beginning to see higher education as a significant investment in the region’s economy. When the University of Massachusetts system increased its tuition by 4.9 percent in 2012, Gov. Deval Patrick gave the school system a $607 million investment.

Although high school graduates form the traditional pool from which colleges pick, Lane noted how alternate channels, such as heavier focus on recruiting non-traditional students, may provide the necessary revenue.

Lane warns against colleges straying too far from their roots as they begin to reflect the changing times in the coming decade.

“As universities try to adapt, they need to identify who they are and what their mission is,” he said. “Some universities try to be everything to everyone and spread themselves too thin.”

However, according to Lane, the real answer for long-term college investments is investing in its local populace.

“UMass Amherst should focus on really engaging in its community, and continuing to build connections and invest in its community,” said Lane. “The more valuable the Amherst community becomes, the more valuable its university will become.”

Chris Kornichuk can be reached at [email protected]


4 Responses to “Report on college enrollment paints grim picture for Northeast universities”

  1. UMassGrad on February 27th, 2013 11:23 am

    Several other factors are likely at play here:

    1) Incredibly high cost of education in the Northeast
    2) Population shift south and west that has been occurring for 30 years
    3) Cumulative marginal tax rates on the working population of northeastern and mid-atlantic states now rivals that of socialist countries like Sweden, leaving many families without resources
    4) and possibly most importantly, the recognition that most colleges fall woefully short in preparing students for the economy that now exists. Universities have generally failed to adapt and innovate their curriculums so that graduates are not equipped to survive in the new economy that has less room to absorb them to begin with.

    While “investing in the local populace” presumably means expanding UMass’ desirability in western Mass, the real answer is like everything else in the economy – do more with less. Streamline curricula, update and innovate practical majors, limit resources into departments with fading utility, and bring professors’ salaries and responsibilities more in line with the economy at large.

    As someone with a BA from UMASS and multiple graduate degrees, it is a shame to recognize that a college degree today is basically the same value as a high school degree 30-40 years ago. While that has been true for some time, universities have increased their costs and fees at a level unprecedented in any other business in the U.S. save health care, while simultaneously producing fewer capable workers into the labor force. The result is a highly expensive education, which many will never really be able to pay off, with limited value. A terrible business model indeed, the results of which are now appearing.

    In this day and age, anything less than 1 or even 2 graduate degrees will not only fail to stand out but fail to even get the opportunities that a mere Bachelors degree promised even only 10 years ago. Of course this will not apply to all, but it will be a reality for a great majority. The University system in this country has been failing us for several decades and schools which do not sacrifice, innovate and become more relevant will fail.


  2. alum on February 27th, 2013 2:31 pm

    Maybe the laws of supply and demand will come into play and the continually rising cost of education will slow or even recede.

    Yeah, right! That’s gonna happen when the university system is a cash cow for hundreds of administrators.


  3. Dr. Ed Cutting on February 28th, 2013 9:26 am

    There isn’t a thing in that report that I haven’t been saying for some time.
    First, as to demographics, because the older “baby boomer” women (who had entered the workforce in the ’70’s & early ’80’s) had their children at an older age *and* at the same time that the younger women of that generation did, the “baby boomlet” generation covers a much narrower range of years — the number of children being born dropped off dramatically after 1993 and that means that the number of 18-year-olds dropped off dramatically after 2011 as children not born 18 years ago aren’t graduating high school now.
    Second, there is something like 48,000 waitresses in Washington, DC who have a 4-year college degree — and as I heard that three years ago, the number is probably quite a bit higher now. In the so-called “Golden Age of Higher Education” — the 1970’s — a newly-minted BA or BS was a credential that would land you a job. Employers valued the degree in a way that they do not now, there are already corporate training programs being accredited as higher education institutions (e.g. McDonald’s “Hamburger U”) and the entire shell game will collapse when some large employer offers a paid internship program to 18-year-olds with the promise that if they complete it, at age 22 they will be earning more than if they had gone to college — and won’t be repaying student loans, either.
    Employers complain about college graduates who lack basic skills. I sometimes teach “educational methods” courses — graduate-level courses that people need to take in order to be certified as a K-12 teacher (even though they are in the classroom now under a provisional license) and I inevitably have to stop and teach basic grammar to people who apparently have never before been taught it. And I don’t mean the nuances of the language like why one shouldn’t start a sentence with “and”, I mean the basics like having “most of your sentences start with a capitol letter and having most of them end with some form of punctuation.
    A little more than a century ago, before women were even allowed to vote, my grandmother (the schoolteacher) was quietly elected to the island’s highest municipal office (the equivalent of Selectboard Chair) because even then, *someone* had to deal with the state bureaucrats. She had a 4-year college degree where the men only had an 8th grade education and was respected for her education.
    A half century ago, when less than a third of the populace had a baccalaureate degree — and when there were certain knowledges and skills that those who did inherently had — the BA or BS would open doors. But now it is like having a drivers’ license – everyone has one, at which point the only question is why you don’t have one, or why isn’t yours perfect.
    Third is the cost. For three decades the price of higher education has been increasing at well over twice the rate of inflation, and I argue that student loan debt will be this generation’s “Vietnam Draft” — the rallying issue of protest.
    In his autobiography, GE’s Jack Welch (the son of a conductor on what is now the MBTA Commuter Rail line) wrote that he went to UMass because it only cost $50 a year — for everything including room & board. That would be $477.76 today — quite a bit less than what UMass does cost. And it isn’t because the legislature gives UMass less money, they actually are giving it more now than then, the problem is that UM spending has increased even more.
    There was a time when there were so few administrators that they could all fit into South College. There was a time when professors were expected to teach “4&4” — four classes each semester, or eight per year — and in the courses the university wanted taught, the esoteric stuff they could teach in addition to these courses. In the ’90’s, it was “2&3” — they were expected to teach five classes a year, and this has now dropped through “2&2” to situations where, with credit for “community outreach” and the rest, some professors only teach one class a semester.
    They not only are much better paid than they used to be, but if the professor who used to teach four classes a semester is only teaching one, that means that you have to hire three more to teach the rest — and that costs money.
    Money that students and their parents are required to borrow — and for which they are required to repay without any guaranteed ability to do so. It is much like the Industrial Revolution practice of extending credit to employees for purchases at the “Company Store” but not letting them quit their jobs until they had repaid what they owed. We have gone from people “owing their soul to the Company Store” to owing their soul to the student loan folks, and economic bondage akin to slavery.
    This is why the whole thing is going to collapse.


  4. Dr. Ed Cutting on February 28th, 2013 9:44 am

    Furthermore, UMass Amherst is going to be hit particularly hard.
    First, Amherst is not only two hours away from where most young people live, but also two hours away from anywhere they want to go. It is at least a two hour drive to a beach, a ski slope, or a decent sized city. The things that most young people want to do simply aren’t in Amherst.
    Second, students are customers, not prisoners — the entire institution exists to serve students, students do not exist to serve the institution and that is a concept that was long ago forgotten at UMass. The level of coercive repression that UMass is employing at this point ought to terrify anyone with any conceptualization of civil liberties — the secret lynch mob that meets every Wednesday afternoon is only the most extreme example. At a certain point, kids considering applying to UMass are going to understand what really happens on that campus and simply not go.
    Third, WalMart doesn’t have riots. The fact that both the campus and the surrounding community are essentially under martial law most weekends clearly indicates how much things have broken down. They can spin student satisfaction surveys any way they want to, much like there were surveys indicating that Romney was going to win the election in a landslide, but the reality is that of a broad-based visceral disgust and rage. These are people who will not be sending their children to UMass, and as the vast majority of UM grads remain in the Commonwealth, that is going to hurt the institution quite badly.


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