The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated many college and university’s biggest threat: students aren’t buying their pitches to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year for an undergraduate degree. The Detroit Free Press profiled Albion College, a small, private liberal arts institution in southern Michigan, and showed how the college is struggling to survive due to the pandemic and plunging interest in colleges.
Albion College, in an attempt to attract more non-traditional (i.e. minority students), slashed its tuition prices. As a result, it spent more money subsidizing these students than when it did not offer subsidies several years prior. The college is taking money out of its endowment, which was $175 million in the 2018-19 academic year.
With an increasingly-diverse student body, the college student body battled one another over political rhetoric. There were back-and-forth demonstrations condemning President Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter, where students engaged in tit-for-tat paint battles involving slogans and statements on a campus rock in 2019. There were even discussions about the kind of music to be played at campus events.
If anything, Albion College is a microcosm of the current financial and social environments on college campuses across the nation. Like Albion College, other liberal arts colleges offer discounts to boost enrollment numbers, but trade off financial profits in exchange for more student enrollments. Others face social strife when students use politically-charged rhetoric to condemn those on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
It is unclear whether continued social unrest and left-wing radicalism, combined with exorbitant tuition rates, will lead to a decrease in college attendance at small liberal arts colleges in the near future. But the reality of today’s cancel culture and lack of civility in society could also convince prospective students to search elsewhere for their education.
Larger, state-funded universities and colleges will most likely survive the pandemic and many have not offered tuition discounts at this time. But for smaller colleges like Albion College, the financial viability going forward is bleak.