- Less than half of students whose colleges close end up reenrolling in another institution, and only about one-third of that group go on to earn a credential, according to a new analysis from two higher education organizations.
- The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center teamed up with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association to examine how students fare after their colleges close — especially when they do so without warning. Their findings suggest that closures add to the population of students who leave college without earning credentials.
- Students who experienced abrupt closures had worse reenrollment rates than their peers whose colleges closed in an orderly manner. For instance, 40% of students whose colleges suddenly closed reenrolled elsewhere, compared to 63.7% of students who reenrolled after orderly closures.
The new research offers one of the first detailed looks at how college closures affect the students who experience them. The findings suggest college shutdowns — especially sudden ones — can derail students’ higher education goals and delay their academic progress.
“It is a serious hardship for the students,” said Doug Shapiro, executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, during a call Monday with reporters. “The data are pretty clear on that.”
The research covers July 2004 to June 2020, a period during which nearly 12,000 campuses closed. It looked at closures at 467 institutions covering 143,000 students. Over 100,000 of those students attended colleges that closed abruptly.
The effects aren’t felt evenly. Nearly 83% of students who experienced closures were studying at for-profit colleges. The majority of students faced sudden closures rather than ones conducted in an orderly fashion.
The researchers defined orderly closures as those in which the institution kept student records and completed a teach-out plan, which describe where students can transfer their credits and finish their credentials.
The findings also point to gender and racial divides. Institutions that closed enrolled a higher share of women students than did those colleges that stayed open, 69.5% versus 66.1%. Black students were also overrepresented at closed colleges, making up 23% of their population compared to 19% of the student population at schools that were still open.
The same was true for Pell recipients, a common proxy for low-income students, who made up 54.7% of the population at closed institutions versus 45.8% at open colleges.
Reenrollment and completion rates also differed by race. Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Native Alaskan students reenrolled at rates of 47% to 56.9%, all of which fell below White students’ reenrollment rate of 62.5%.
Completion rates showed even starker differences. Almost 45% of White students completed a credential elsewhere after their colleges closed, compared to 30.2% of Black students, 40.5% of Asian students, 31.5% of Hispanic students, 37.3% of American Indian or Native Alaskan students, and 25.9% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students.
The researchers did not include students with missing race or ethnicity data in the reenrollment and completion data, but they did include them in the overall statistics.
The report argues that states can strengthen oversight of colleges to prevent sudden college closures. For instance, state regulators should use multiple measures to assess the financial strength of colleges.
“That can allow states to assess institutional viability and then take proactive steps to prevent closures,” said Rachel Burns, a senior policy analyst at SHEEO, during Monday’s call.
Once it becomes clear a college is closing, regulators should require them to have teach-out agreements in place, the report said. They should also check that colleges agreeing to take a closed institution’s students have the resources to do so.