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Survey Indicates Mixed News For Private Colleges

By CityTownInfo.com Staff
July 20, 2009

According to a recent survey, most private colleges expect to maintain or slightly increase enrollment this fall, but 40 percent saw students drop out because of economic difficulties, and 14 percent expected that undergraduate enrollment would drop by at least 5 percent.

The analysis of 284 schools, released by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, indicated that most undergraduate enrollment at private colleges is projected to increase by about 0.2 percent--a far less dire situation than education experts had predicted. "The surprise is that there are not more bad stories than I've heard," noted Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, who was quoted in Inside Higher Ed.

NAICU attributed a number of factors to the better-than-expected enrollment numbers, including increased funding for Pell Grants, federal and institutional student aid, relatively low tuition increases, salary and hiring freezes and more flexible admission practices.

"The nation's students and families are facing unprecedented financial challenges, and many are struggling to afford college without taking on excessive debt," explained David L. Warren, president of NAICU, who was quoted in a press release. "Private college presidents are aware of the difficulties facing consumers, and are doing what they can within their institutional means to enhance affordability."

Nevertheless, the survey revealed that private colleges face an uphill battle as more students struggle to afford tuition costs. About 83 percent of respondents reported that requests for student aid had increased since last year, and roughly three-quarters noted that they had increased institutional and federal aid awards.

One respondent said that the recession has had "a direct and significant" impact on enrollment. "It has definitely increased the amount of financial aid being awarded," the official wrote. "It has affected the financial aid office counselors' time with families. The staff has spent many more hours counseling, performing professional judgments, and reviewing appeals to assist student with more aid to keep them enrolled. More students have applied for aid in Fall 2009 than had ever applied before."

While many institutions have clearly taken steps to maintain enrollment this year, college officials expressed concern about the effects of an economic downturn lasting for several more years.

"A lot depends on how long this recession lasts," noted Ekman in Inside Higher Ed. "Things could get a lot worse if this goes on much longer, but so far a lot of places are staying above water."

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