Nearly three-quarters of students whose colleges closed between 2004 and 2020 were left stranded without adequate warning or plans to help them complete their degrees, and less than half of those students re-enrolled in a postsecondary program, according to a published report. on Tuesday.
Black and Hispanic students who attended for-profit institutions were hit the hardest. “Closing these schools effectively shut the door on students’ educational dreams,” Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Information Center’s research center, said at a briefing with reporters.
The research center worked with the National Association of Higher Education Executive Officers (also known as SHEEO) on a series of three reports examining the impact of college closings on students and how states can better protect those whose educational plans are disrupted.
The first report “Dream derailed? Examining the Impact of College Closures on Student Outcomes,” found that 467 colleges closed in the U.S. between July 2004 and June 2020, a loss of about 12,000 campuses nationwide. Almost half were private, for-profit, two-year colleges.
For 70 percent of the 143,000 affected students, colleges abruptly closed their doors, without enough notice or curricula to help students complete their degrees or other credentials.
A 2019 Chronicle the analysis showed that many of those whose lives have been thrown into chaos by campus closures were working adults living paycheck to paycheck. For them, college was a way to provide enough money to support their families and achieve a middle-class lifestyle.
Instead, they have joined the more than 36 million Americans with some college education and no degree, a population that has grown during the Covid-19 pandemic. Colleges struggling to maintain enrollment are ramping up efforts to find and re-enroll many of them.
“This study shows that college closings harm student success by leaving too many learners — more than half — without a viable path to fulfilling their educational dreams,” Shapiro said in a prepared statement. “However, the extremely poor performance of students who experienced the abrupt closure is particularly concerning.”
The findings reinforce the need to strengthen how states monitor institutions of higher education to “prevent, prepare for and respond to college closings,” SHEEO President Rob Anderson said in a prepared statement.
The colleges most likely to close — for-profit institutions — disproportionately serve students of color, veterans, and adult students with children.
In upcoming reports, researchers will examine how students fared in states that offer more or fewer protections for stranded students.
The report notes that the study reinforced the need for states to do a better job of monitoring the financial health of colleges. “When it is likely that an institution will close, states must ensure that learning contracts are in place to allow all students to complete their credentials,” it said.
Colleges struggling financially should plan ahead to find colleges willing to accept their students and earned credits when they close their doors, the researchers said. In some extreme examples, students showed up to class to find the doors locked and no way to get records of the classes they had taken.
Students whose for-profit campuses are closed often enroll at another branch of the same college, which often also closes, the researchers said. They would be better off going with “an outside partner that doesn’t struggle with the same financial viability factors,” SHEEO senior policy analyst Rachel Burns said in a briefing.
The report found that students who re-enrolled in college within four months of a campus closure were more likely to earn a certificate, and their odds of doing so doubled if they re-enrolled within a year. Younger people, whites, and women were most likely to re-enroll; of students who re-enrolled after campus closures, 38 percent received a postsecondary certificate.