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Distress Soars at Small US Colleges as Enrollment Declines

Distress Soars at Small US Colleges as Enrollment Declines


Nic Querolo
March 5, 2024
A growing number of small US colleges are under pressure, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the latest federal data that shows more higher education institutions facing enrollment declines and other strains.
About 200 schools met at least three of the five metrics that Bloomberg used to identify rising pressure on non-profit higher-education institutions with less than 5,000 students, according to a review of the most-up-to-date government data from the US Department of Education. Those factors include high acceptance rates, falling enrollment and repeated years of operating losses.
That’s up from Bloomberg’s tally last year and the most facing pressure in over a decade, according to the 2022-23 collection period of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Those problems are rippling through college finances. More than a dozen small schools have shown signs of distress, including debt covenant violations, slashed credit ratings, or have plans to close or merge this year.
Cardinal Stritch University in Wisconsin, Cabrini University in Pennsylvania and the College of Saint Rose in New York each met multiple flags in Bloomberg’s analysis. They’ve all decided to close their doors.
“There is some rebounding, but we are still tracking lower than we were pre-pandemic,” said Lisa Washburn, chief credit officer and managing director at MMA. “Overall, the trends that were in place pre-pandemic seem to be continuing.”


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