Saturday, December 13, 2014

Small Colleges: A Reappraisal of Common Wisdom

I really enjoyed reading about Shimer College this past week in Jon Ronson's interesting article for The Guardian.  Shimer, founded in 1853, has never had large numbers of students and apparently has fewer than 100 students now.  Yet, it somehow survives and given the emotional responses of students and alumni, will likely do so for a while.

Ronson mentioned in his article that Shimer is the second smallest institution now in the U.S....though there are actually several more that are smaller.  So, I thought it might be interesting to learn and share a bit more about this part of our higher education system.

Watch for several more posts over the next few days.  I'll also look forward to hearing your thoughts or questions!

I started this project by identifying the 364 public and independent institutions with f.t.e enrollments less than 1,000 in the 2013-14 academic year.  You can zoom in using the map below to find their names and locations.

This group excluded for-profits, institutions that operate outside the Carnegie and IPEDS systems for classification and data gathering, and a few institutions with gaps in their IPEDS data.  The remaining institutions were then divided into eight groups using their Carnegie basic 2010 classification and the Summary table below provides the most recent basic information on enrollments and endowments reported to IPEDS.

There is diversity of mission among the institutions, though nearly 80% of these small schools are either baccalaureate institutions or are classified as seminaries, bible colleges, or faith-based institutions.

Twenty-five percent of the institutions appear to be totally dependent on tuition and annual gifts since they do not have endowments or report endowment returns.  Among the remaining 272 institutions, wide differences in wealth are reflected in disparities between mean and median endowments.

I pulled and ranked the ten small institutions with the largest endowments in the following table.  While future posts will provide more analysis of the less well off institutions, I think it is good to recall this list when someone makes blanket claims that small institutions must change or close.  Some appear to be small by design.