Over the past several years, an increasing number of small, private not-for-profit colleges have shuttered, often leaving students struggling to find options to complete their degrees in a timely fashion. Several macro factors mean it’s a trend that’s likely to continue:

  • A smaller cohort of college-bound high school students now than in 2010 has resulted in declining enrollments, with 15% of private and 17% of public colleges reporting enrollment declines in the 3-year period beginning in 2015
  • Increased access to online instruction, at the expense of classroom instruction
  • Declines in international student enrollment

So, how do you know if a school you’re considering is at risk? A report from the Parthenon Group points to several “critical risk factors”:

  • Enrolling fewer than 1,000 students
  • Absence of online programs
  • Tuition increases greater than 8% and discounts higher than 35%
  • Depending on tuition for more than 85% of revenue

Students considering smaller colleges should do their homework and find out how risky a proposition each school is. One challenge students face when their school closes is a common issue with transfer credits: Your credits may or may not transfer, and even if they do, they could transfer as general ed credits, rather than requirements for a specific major or degree. For example, when Portland’s Concordia University closed last month, many other schools stepped in with generous transfer offers. However, many students who would have graduated this year found that their credits were not recognized or that they needed to meet additional graduation requirements at their new school, postponing their graduation and extending the time period in which they are paying for college.