Colleges that have closed since 2016

Education Dive recently did a thorough evaluation of the Colleges that have closed since 2016. Click here to see the full list of nonprofit college closures since 2016.

The last few years have been tumultuous ones for colleges and universities in the U.S. Increased regulation and reduced enrollment continue to be among several factors contributing to the closure or consolidation of thousands of colleges and campuses around the country.

That consolidation also impacted the priorities of ones that remained open. Institutions are adding degrees and certificates in emerging tech fields such as artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, and dropping low-enrollment programs including some in the liberal arts. They’re also looking online, where they can reach more students with targeted subject matter.

That activity is ongoing and more is forecasted in the years ahead.

Small liberal arts colleges fight to stay open

Undergraduate enrollment is on the decline, reducing the tuition revenue many small colleges rely on for lack of a sizable endowment. Experts say the drop-off is due in part to a strong economy and projections of a cyclical decline among the college-age demographic. To help attract more students, colleges are offering them a bigger break on tuition.

A 2016 report from Ernst & Young affiliate the Parthenon Group found 800 colleges vulnerable to “critical strategic challenges” due to their small size, compared to a much smaller share of colleges with enrollments over 1,000. The report lists several risk factors for small colleges amid the current environment of consolidation in higher ed. Those include: enrolling fewer than 1,000 students; the absence of online programs; tuition increases greater than 8% and discounts higher than 35%; and depending on tuition for more than 85% of revenue.

In a review of more than 75 New England colleges enrolling more than 100 students and that had annual expenses of less than $100 million in 2012 and 2016, The Boston Globe found tuition accounted for 70% or more of revenue at 63 institutions. Harvard University, by comparison, got 21% of its revenue from tuition in 2017. Small liberal arts colleges have played an important role in the region’s economy and history, The Globe notes, which is partly why their closures tend to make headlines.

Tight budgets and small endowments factored into announcements by several New England colleges in recent months that they, too, would close. The 2018 closure of Mount Ida College, located near Boston, made headlines yet again this spring when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by students alleging officials knew the college was in financial trouble and didn’t inform students of the situation until it abruptly shuttered in May following a failed merger attempt. The judge said the claims didn’t stand up to state law and that paying tuition in exchange for education “does not create a contract” between the institutions and students.

The spate of closures in the region prompted the state higher education board and an accreditor to increase oversight of their financial performance.

Not all colleges faced with the likelihood of closing end up doing so, however. Iowa Wesleyan University raised enough money from alumni and the community to stay open for the spring 2019 semester after officials said it might close due to financial difficulties amid enrollment declines.

Major private liberal arts college closures and consolidation, 2016-present

InstitutionStateYearDealDive Insight
American Jewish UniversityCA2018Closed (Temporarily) 
Burlington CollegeVT2016Closed 
College of New RochelleNY2019 (expected)Closed 
College of St. JosephVT2019Closed 
Concordia College AlabamaAL2018Closed 
Crossroads CollegeMN2016Closed 
Dowling CollegeNY2016Closed 
Grace UniversityNE2018Closed 
Green Mountain CollegeVT2019ClosedDive Insight
Hiwassee CollegeTN2019Closed 
John Wesley UniversityNC2018Merged (Piedmont International University) 
Marygrove CollegeMI2019Closed 
Marylhurst UniversityOR2018Closed 
Morthland CollegeIL2018Closed 
Mount Ida CollegeMA2018ClosedDive Insight
Newbury CollegeMA2019ClosedDive Insight
Saint Joseph’s CollegeIN2017Closed 
Shimer CollegeIL2017Merged (North Central College) 
Southern Vermont CollegeVY2019Closed 
St. Catharine CollegeKY2016Closed 
St. Gregory’s UniversityOK2017ClosedDive Insight
Trinity Lutheran CollegeWA2016Closed 

Institutions included on this list had one or more location close during the period. We did not consider satellite campuses.

Sources: Click here

Public systems consolidate 

Just as small colleges are undergoing major consolidation, so too are some larger university systems. Among the most high profile is the set of mergers underway within the University of Wisconsin System, which will consolidate 13 two-year colleges into seven four-year colleges. It’s the system’s biggest change since it formed in 1971, according to the Wisconsin State-Journal.

The University of Georgia System has been consolidating campuses for several years in a move to reduce operating costs and improve student outcomes. A trio of community colleges in Alabama, too, is consolidating into a single institution with a new name: Coastal Alabama Community College. Connecticut’s community colleges are also eyeing an administrative consolidation.

Slightly fewer than half of college mergers between 2010 and 2017 — roughly 40 across nine or more states — involved at least one public college, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline publication. Colleges face several challenges to successful mergers, however, including the potential for cultural mismatches, higher tuition from reduced local competition and challenges reconciling salaries of two-year college employees with the often-higher rates commanded by those at four-year institutions, Stateline reported.

Consolidation of individual colleges or entire systems is most successful when it’s part of a strategic plan and not a last-ditch effort to save an institution, according to a 2017 report from the research arm of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America. The report notes potential short-term costs include updating campus buildings, marketing the change and lost efficiencies despite the move to scale, and that gains pay out over the long term.

Major public college closures and consolidation, 2016-present

InstitutionStateYearDealDive Insight
Alabama Southern Community CollegeAL2016Merged (Faulkner State and Jefferson Davis community colleges)  
Armstrong State UniversityGA2017Merged (Georgia Southern University) 
Asnuntuck Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating AdministrationDive Insight
Bainbridge State CollegeGA2017Merged (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College) 
Capital Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Faulkner State Community CollegeAL2017Merged (Alabama Southern and Jefferson Davis community colleges) 
Gateway Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Georgia Perimeter CollegeGA2016Merged (Georgia State University) 
Housatonic Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administration 
Jefferson Davis Community CollegeAL2016Merged (Faulkner State and Alabama Southern community colleges) 
Johnson State CollegeVT2018Merged (Lyndon State College) 
Lyndon State CollegeVT2018Merged (Johnson State College) 
Manchester Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Middlesex Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Naugatuck Valley Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Northwestern Connecticut Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Norwalk Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Quinebaug Valley Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Three Rivers Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
Tunxis Community CollegeCT2023 (expected)Consolidating administrationDive Insight
University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk CountyWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Platteville) 
University of Wisconsin-Barron CountyWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire) 
University of Wisconsin-Fond du LacWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) 
University of Wisconsin-Fox ValleyWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) 
University of Wisconsin-Marathon CountyWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) 
University of Wisconsin-MarshfieldWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) 
University of Wisconsin-RichlandWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Platteville) 
University of Wisconsin-Rock CountyWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater) 
University of Wisconsin-Washington CountyWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) 
University of Wisconsin-WaukeshaWI2020 (expected)Consolidated (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) 
Wichita Area Technical CollegeWI2018Merged (Wichita State University) 

Institutions included on this list had one or more location close during the period. We did not consider satellite campuses.

Sources: Click here

For-profits look for a way forward

The for-profit sector has been in a downward spiral since 2016, when the Obama administration increased its oversight and stripped federal recognition of the accreditor responsible for two large chains — ITT and Corinthian Colleges — whose collapses drew attention to issues of misrepresentation and poor student outcomes within the sector. That accreditor, ACICS, oversaw about 250 colleges in 2016, a figure that has since shrunk by roughly two-thirds with 61 closing and more than 100 finding new accreditors, according to a July 2018 report by the Center for American Progress.

More than 100 for-profit and career colleges closed between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 academic years alone, while 20 nonprofit colleges shuttered during that period, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. And although the number of credentials issued increased 1.2% from 2012-13 to 2016-17, for-profits offered nearly 30% fewer than nonprofits.

The closures that have characterized the sector reared up again in late 2018 and early 2019 with the shuttering of for-profit colleges owned by three college operators: Education Corporation of America, Vatterott Educational Centers and the Dream Center. Combined, tens of thousands of students were affected. The closures’ quick succession drew renewed attention to concerns over how the department and accreditors monitor struggling colleges, and what safeguards protect students when they shut their doors.

Efforts by the U.S. Department of Education under Betsy DeVos to roll back or weaken some of the regulations governing the sector are underway, most recently with its move to permanently reinstate federal recognition of ACICS after DeVos temporarily restored it last year. That could breathe new life into several ACICS institutions that were unable to find new accreditors. DeVos’s Ed Department has also pledged to overhaul two key Obama-era regulations concerning for-profit colleges — borrower defense to repayment and gainful employment — though it missed a key deadline for doing so. It is now in the process of writing new rules for accreditation.

For-profit colleges have been taking advantage of lax oversight from the Ed Department to shed the sector’s tainted reputation and targeted regulation.

The biggest move yet involved the for-profit Kaplan University, whose acquisition by Purdue University was finalized in 2018 to form the framework of the nonprofit’s online education platform. And Grand Canyon University last year won approval to change status from a for-profit to a nonprofit institution, though it will operate under a for-profit parent that handles support services such as technology, marketing and financial aid. Critics say such moves allow for-profits to operate as nonprofits.

Other for-profit college operators are changing tack, dropping their colleges and picking up companies that can round out an educational services portfolio. Among them are Zovio, formerly Bridgepoint Education and parent of Ashford University, as well as Adtalem Global Education, which sold off DeVry University last year as it doubles down on professional education.

Several House Democrats, who won a majority in the 2018 midterm elections, have pledged to step up oversight of the Ed Department’s de-regulatory efforts. Industry observers expect more movement among for-profits through 2020, including nonprofit conversions and acquisitions.