The College Contraction Has Begun

Last year, US college enrollment registered a notable decline for the first time in decades. The college boom had peaked. Now, the contraction begins.

It starts around the margins—community colleges and shitty "for profit" colleges losing students who recognize that they are not necessarily a good investment. A year ago, experts said that "signs point to 2013-14 being the year when traditional four-year, nonprofit colleges begin a contraction that will last for several years." That prediction appears to be coming true.

Bloomberg today surveys the doom that is now creeping into the smaller, weaker, less popular, less financially stable class of private four year colleges. As their own enrollment declines—and without the huge endowments necessary to fill the holes—they risk falling into "death spirals" of continuing cuts and falling popularity, until nothing is left. After the shock of the recession, the weak of higher education are beginning to fall by the wayside:

Moody's, which rates more than 500 public and private nonprofit colleges and universities, downgraded an average of 28 institutions annually in the five years through 2013, more than double the average of 12 in the prior five-year period.

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has predicted that as many as half of the more than 4,000 universities and colleges in the U.S. may fail in the next 15 years.

Assuming this comes true, it sure does suck for the poor beleaguered bastards trying to build a career as a college professor—but not so much for college students, whose financial burden is so high that having a relatively higher quality pool of institutions to attend could be a net positive. If people find out that college degrees don't pay off in the way they thought, they will not enroll in colleges, and some colleges will fail. Better, in the long run, than a bunch of zombie schools desperately trying to suck in any revenue stream at all to stay alive. That's ultimately a waste of a lot of time, money, and effort.

Many deserted college campuses would make great paintball fields. (Free idea.)

[Photo: Shutterstock]