Schools in America and abroad have seen some major struggles in the past few years—five years to be exact, since the economy tanked in 2008. In the U.S., even five years after the Great Recession, small colleges are still fighting with declining enrollment, student debt, and sluggish job prospects for graduates. As a result, many schools are being downgraded by ratings agencies like Moody’s.
“What we’re concerned about is the death spiral—this continuing downward momentum for some institutions,” said Susan Fitzgerald, who is an analyst for Moody’s Investors Service. “We will see more closures than in the past.”
The past five years, Moody’s has more than doubled its average number of public and private nonprofit colleges and universities, averaging 28 institutions per year. And as these downgrades hit, often citing financial factors as major problems, more students consider transferring to other schools. This vicious cycle loses colleges even more money, forcing them to make further cuts to course offerings, major programs, staff, and student offerings (as well as increases in tuition).
Instead of sticking with small colleges, students are more often flocking to larger universities in the U.S. These universities often have better financial cushions and diversity of funding. International students have also been a great boon to larger institutions, as the number of international students has risen for seven consecutive years in the U.S.—and these students usually enroll in well-known schools such as the University of Southern California, the University of Illinois—Urbana – Champaign, Purdue, New York University, and others.
At the same time that international student enrollment is up in the U.S., it has declined in Britain for the first time since the early 1980s—when universities first started charging international students tuition. Recent increases in tuition and restrictions for international students are being pinpointed as potential causes for the decline in enrollment.
So, what is the future of education in America and abroad? If trends continue their current path, we’ll see more small colleges closing in the U.S. as they struggle to become financially viable once more. Small schools will need to continue to reassess current structures and come up with more permanent solutions to financial woes. In the coming years, we’ll also likely see continued increases in international enrollment in the U.S.—especially from China, South Korea, and India, which make up about half of all international students in the U.S.
CEO of the Institute of International Education, Allan E. Goodman, says that our future education programs need to promote more than ever international enrollment—for all students. Currently, about 90 percent of American undergraduates do not study abroad. “We need to increase substantially the number of U.S. students who go abroad so that they too can gain the international experience which is so vital to career success and deepening mutual understanding,” he says.