Students often have to make some tough choices when it comes to choosing the right college. There are many factors to consider: cost of tuition and supplemental costs (i.e., textbooks and lab materials); cost of living; distance from work or family, and the associated travel costs; availability of programs of study; classroom size; faculty reputation; racial, ethnic, gender, income diversity, and many more. Each of these factors can play a crucial role in a student’s comfort level and ability to succeed at any given college or university.
Lately, though, one new factor has become increasingly relevant: the stability of the college. There have been many sudden school closures in the past year or so, largely due to the fallout of the economic crisis that began in 2008. For example, I recently wrote about college closures, including the demise of Lon Morris College in Texas, ACT College in Virginia, and the closings of branches of well-known schools such as Lincoln School of Technology and the University of Phoenix. The students affected by this now have to find schools to transfer to, and have suffered delays in their education.
While those schools that have closed some campuses are still operative and have provided alternatives to their students, all forms of campus closure can throw a monkey wrench into graduation plans, financial aid, career development, and many other aspects of a student’s higher education and professional life.
Unfortunately, there are many colleges on shaky ground. Many other very well-known schools are facing challenges that may dramatically affect their futures, including two institutions of venerable reputation:
- City College of San Francisco has been threatened with closure by the accreditation board. As a result, California’s largest college, whose alumni include actors Danny Glover, Bill Bixby, and Lee Meriwether, along with O.J. Simpson and perennial presidential candidate and comedian Pat Paulsen, has resorted to a drastic streamlining of its resources due to its budget shortfalls. The first step began three days ago with a unanimous but controversial trustee decision to reduce costs of $2 million dollars by stripping faculty administration of its role and sending administrators back into the classrooms—which means that people who probably haven’t been in a classroom in decades might end up teaching again. Interim Chancellor Pamila Fisher told the trustees that if they did not do this, “there won’t be a college…The accrediting commission made it clear as recently as yesterday that they are concerned we are not moving quickly enough.”
- Wilberforce University near Dayton, Ohio, the nation’s oldest historically black college (HBCU), is currently facing a different kind of tumult. HBCUBuzz.com reported that on October 24, 2012, nearly 75% of the school’s 489 students rallied on campus and then marched to the administrative offices to get transfer papers. The students have complained about high tuition, dorm room shortages, and health and safety concerns about campus life, including mold in the dorm rooms. Many faculty members also joined in the protest. The next day, the college president met with students to assure them that these problems could be addressed, but the students plan to march again at the next Board of Trustees meeting.
Choosing a Secure College
Given the current state of uncertainty affecting the finances of many colleges, it’s a good idea to take some additional factors into consideration when choosing the right college for you. Thankfully, we have access to a great deal of information in the Internet age, so students do not need to be in the dark about the internal affairs of a college and university they are considering. Here are some things to look for to make sure you will not end up at a school that has unsteady finances, administrative tumult or student dissatisfaction over serious issues (not just their grades, in other words):
- Read the College Newspaper: Most college and university student-run newspapers are available online these days. Read through several issues, going back a semester or so to find out what’s happening on campus. Pay particular attention to letters by and to the editor, as school newspapers often take a stand on issues relevant to the school’s overall well-being.
- Google the School’s Board of Trustees: You can learn about any college’s Board of Trustees, which is charged with making the school’s financial decisions, by Googling the name of the college and the phrase “Board of Trustees.” Local news coverage and even the minutes of the last meeting may be available online. For example, the City College of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees meeting agendas and minutes are available online You can learn a lot about a school’s priorities, as well as decisions that may have an impact on the school’s future, from such documents.
- Follow College Chat Boards or Twitter Feeds: Students love to complain, but not all complaints are equal. Ignore the moaning about this or that instructor at this stage of your search. Instead, focus on significant complaints, such as lack of available courses, which may indicate budget cuts that could affect your schedule for college completion. Submit questions about standard-of-living issues, such as adequate custodial services and maintenance in the dorms. Poor quality in this area may also mean budget cuts.
- Talk to Admissions and Financial Aid Representatives: You have a right to accurate information about the school’s financial status. Find out about the school’s scholarship endowment, for example: is it still well-funded, or has it suffered significant losses during the economic crisis? Are tuition costs projected to increase in the years that you will be enrolled? Gather as much information about these issues as possible.
If all of this seems like a lot of extra work to put into choosing a college, well…you’re right. But a little more work now may save you a huge headache later: you don’t want to find yourself at a school that is in crisis, and need to transfer to another one.