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Research & Reports

The Small College Imperative: From Survival to Transformation

By Mary B. Marcy

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2017

Small colleges and universities serve a profoundly important role in American society. They provide the rigorous, personalized experience that is the hallmark of the best of higher education. In the process, they build opportunity and encourage civic engagement among a new generation of citizens.

The landscape for these institutions has changed dramatically in recent years. Declining numbers of traditional college-age students have coincided with a shift in populations moving away from areas with a large number of small private institutions. The high-tuition and high-financial-aid model of funding private colleges and universities is generating less net-tuition revenue, while tuition-discounting rates continue to climb. And the ongoing shift in focus from college as a public good to a private service has led to a devaluing of the liberal arts and a rise in professional and pre-professional programs.

To survive and even to thrive, small private institutions must move beyond short-term measures and embrace a vision of the future that promises sustainability in all its manifestations: sustainability of mission, of educational quality, and of fiscal health. This paper presents models for sustainability that are being developed in response to the changing environment.

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