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The Current Landscape of Accreditation, Acquisitions, and College Closures

College Closure: The College of Saint Rose
College Closure: The College of Saint Rose

Over the course of 2023, 14 nonprofit four-year colleges announced closures along with a handful of acquisitions and mergers, according to Inside Higher Ed. The number of postsecondary Title IV institutions in 2020–21 was 5,916, compared with 7,021 in 2010–11, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which also includes for-profit institutions.

There is a steady trend of a highly vulnerable population in the post-pandemic landscape, and many colleges and universities are showing warning signs of possible closure. The three primary indicators that plague the majority of the cases for college closure include low or declining enrollment, a declining financial state, and an inability to demonstrate accreditation requirements, thus becoming at risk of losing accreditation. These three characteristics seem to be simple measures to ascertain an institution's health, but often, discerning the fiscal danger is only the beginning. This week, we saw an apparent trend of possible closures that has practitioners wondering how to address this issue as it becomes more detrimental in the current economic landscape.

A recent example of a college closure is The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY, where institutional finances were an issue among other mounting factors. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an accrediting body, cited non-compliance, stating, "Its accreditation may be in jeopardy because of insufficient evidence that the institution is currently in compliance with Standard VI (Resources, Planning, and Institutional Improvement). To note that the institution remains accredited while on warning. Note further that federal regulations limit the period during which an institution may be in non-compliance, which starts June 22, 2023." Saint Rose also looked to neighboring institutions for a possible acquisition, but it was unsuccessful. In December 2023, the college announced its closure and will not be open during the 2024-2025 school year.

We have also seen historically black colleges and universities live in a perpetual "at-risk" state due to disproportionate funding in comparison to their predominantly white institution counterparts, low or declining enrollment, and constant dissonance with accreditation systems. In higher education dialogues, we are willing to discuss strategic enrollment management, retention initiatives, student affairs, academic affairs, shared governance, and institutional pluralism. However, we often disregard subject matters related to accreditation, mergers and acquisitions, and college closures. We also need more responsiveness to colleges and universities needing resources and support. While college closure can sometimes be the better decision, we should be willing to explore every option prior to doing so.

In Mississippi, a bill was recently submitted merely to get a conversation going about the health of public colleges within the state. Sen. John Polk (R-Hattiesburg) told Mississippi Today that he just wanted to start a conversation when he filed Senate Bill 2726, requiring the governing board of Mississippi's eight public universities to close three by 2028. Although he is confident that the bill has a slim chance of passing, the goal was to open a dialogue about an issue that seems to be kept in the dark. How do we help colleges and universities struggling to maintain enrollment, financial stability, and accreditation standards? Each college's struggles may be unique in how they arrived at this stage, but the solutions are general and time-sensitive.

Soliciting a third-party consulting agency, such as Huron Consulting Group, which has proven to be a trusted partner for Higher Education institutions, would help Boards of Trust and Senior Leadership identify the more significant issues and work towards solutions. Of course, there are associated costs, and schools should carefully consider spending their financial reserves. We need more visibility, dialogue, and, most importantly, better solutions for those affected by characteristics that lead to inevitable closure. This issue is not one size fits all, but we should be aware that it can happen at any institution, given the volatile circumstances we are managing with external stakeholders at this pivotal time in Higher Ed.

Thank you for reading and sharing this article!

Rebuttals are always welcome,

Jade M. Felder

@felderofficial - X


1 Comment

Mar 02

News just "broke" this week about Notre Dame College in Ohio closing at the end of the spring semester due to finances. They have secured agreements with 9 area institutions so their students can finish their degrees with no issues - a very intentionally developed plan. But sad to see yet another small school with a long history have to shutter its doors.


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