Facts about College and University Closings and Mergers

February 5th, 2019 by


According to education researchers and writers, James Martin and James E. Samuels, colleges and universities are merging and closing at rates higher than at any time in the past fifty years and according  to studies from Vanderbilt University and Higher Education Publications Inc., the number of private four-year colleges that have closed or were acquired, doubled from approximately five a year before 2008 to ten in the four years through 2011 and among all colleges, 37 schools merged in the three years through 2013.2016, 33 colleges and universities closed and one school merged. The number in 2017 was 31 school closings and six mergers. The figures in 2018 were 35 closings, ten mergers and six acquired. Over 90 percent were private institutions

In 2018 the abrupt closings of Mount Ida College and Newbury College prompted the Massachusetts Board of Education to consider requiring colleges to pass a financial “stress test,” an attempt to prevent sudden closures.

The National Student  education student enrollment decline of 1.7 percent in fall 2018 from the prior year. According to Moody’s Investors Service, during this fiscal year public and private universities in the United States are expected to experience the slowest net tuition revenue growth in more than a decade. Moody’s continues to remain negative on higher education forecasts.

There are several reasons for the increase in college closings and mergers. The number of students of traditional college age, particularly in New England, is declining while the cost of recruiting those students through tuition discounts, is increasing. Flat high school graduation rates across the country and increased competition from online competitors have negatively impacted the ability of schools with fewer than 5,000 students to successfully increase their enrollments.

I examined enrollment data from the December 14, 2018 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, of 30 four-year public and private colleges with the greatest percentage decreases in full-time undergraduates.  Contributing factors included the following:

Four-year public institutions – 14.7 percent decrease

Reduction in availability of federal and state aid

Accreditation problems

Stricter admission standards

Fewer international students

Decreased state funding

Strategic planning changes

Changing demographics

Loss of 25 percent of the student body due to unpaid bills

Four-year private institutions – 9.1 percent decrease

Reduction in college’s offerings

Tightening of student loan regulations

Financial and accreditation problems

Less available state aid

Program cuts

Shift from traditional to non-traditional students

Competing scholarship options at other colleges

The Great Recession

In addition to all of these cited reasons, fewer international students are enrolling in United States’ colleges and universities, and flat progression and retention rates, are also contributing to fewer college and university enrollments.

In next month’s column, I will list some suggestions for vulnerable institutions to consider to avoid closing or merging. In the meantime, should you wish further information, I suggest reading:  Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities by James Martin and James E. Samuels Peter Jacobs’ article, Here’s How Many Colleges Have Closed in the Past 25 Years, Business Insider, March 12, 2015 and William Tierney’s book, The Disruptive Future of Higher Education, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, and Moody’s Investor Service’s recent article, U.S. higher education outlook remains negative on low tuition growth, 2018.

According to an article in Education Dive by Jim Fong, the director of University Professors and Continuing Education, the trend of unhealthy institutional performance continues upward and will continue to do so in the short-term and possibly for the long-term.

Last year was a challenging year for institutions of higher education in the United States. This year may prove to be equally, or more, challenging.

Elements of Successful and Unsuccessful International Strategic Planning

January 22nd, 2019 by


Successful & Unsuccessful International Strategic Planning




Whether you are responsible for recruiting international students or you have the responsibility for managing your institution’s  entire enrollment process, the 14 characteristics of successful strategic plans and the seven characteristics of unsuccessful plans listed in this article will be useful. I realize there are numerous books and scholarly articles written on the subject, but this blog post may be a good place to start.

The questions are simple. But the answers are not.

Check off the following yes or no:

Is your international strategic plan?

Driven by a compelling vision

Has the support of the president and key stakeholders

Is synergistic with your school’s overall strategic plan and complements the enrollment management plan

Has clearly stated goals and priorities

Is coherent, unifying, and integrated

Has an inclusive planning process

Is data-driven and research-based

Makes extensive use of social media

Recognizes marketplace realities, opportunities, and possibilities

Has the staff and funding resources for both the creation and execution of the plan

Has measurable outcomes

Is regularly assessed and changed, if necessary

Can answer why students should enroll in your institution


Elements of Unsuccessful Strategic Plans

Lack of presidential and key stakeholders support

Poorly defined goals and objectives

Little or no research

Inadequate staff or funding

Lack of prioritization

Inadequate follow-up procedures

Lack of assessment procedures


No longer can or should international deans and recruiters implement international strategic plans that were once successful in the past but are no longer relevant for the future.

Political, economic, social and technological changes require a different way of thinking and planning. Prevailing perceptions should be challenged. Developing a fact-based worldview in order to better understand the world’s new globalized markets and demographic shifts is essential to future planning.

Curiosity, or being open to new information and actively seeking it out, is an international dean’s greatest asset.

Future international students have options. So should international deans and recruiters.

Shifting Sands

January 8th, 2019 by



Shifting Sands: Political and economic changes in Saudi Arabia and higher education in the Middle East




In my book, International Student Mobility and the New World Disorder, I make the case for how political and economic changes occurring throughout the world have, and will continue to have, an impact on international higher education recruitment and enrollment. This article will examine some of the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia and the current state of higher education in the Middle East.  

“Where Saudi Arabia goes, the GCC follows. Where the GCC goes, the Arab world follows. Where the Arab world goes, the Muslim world follows.”

                                                                                                 Saudi official

Radical reforms within Saudi Arabia are changing the societal norms that have governed the country and its people for decades. Last year the mutawaeen (secret police) disappeared from the streets of Riyadh and Jeddah, a part of a larger policy of modernizing the Saudi state by the Saudi crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman (MBS). As part of the crown prince’s set of reforms known as “Vision 2030,” women were given the right to drive cars and the country’s first new public cinema since 1979 opened in April 2018 with men and women sitting together. The late King Abdullah’s motto was yawash, yawash, slowly, slowly. Muhammad bin Salman’s motto seems to be fly high and fast.

Political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla describes the Arab world as living what he calls “the Gulf moment.” And Riyadh is the center.

Saudi Arabia with its recent geopolitical outreach to both the United States and Russia is clearly attempting to align itself with countries that have the potential to help the country meet its strategic economic and military goals. In 2017 Saudi Arabia became the highest military spender in the world after the United States and China.

Economic and social changes in Saudi Arabia will be governed by the price of crude oil. Current crude prices are $80 a barrel, significantly lower than their peak of $146 a decade ago. Given a budget deficit of 9 percent last year, and plans for record expenditures this year, Saudi Arabia needs oil prices to rise to $87 a barrel just to break even. In an attempt to increase revenue, the government in Riyadh has imposed a 5% value-added tax on tobacco and sweetened drinks and has cut fuel and electricity subsidies.

The sands in the Middle East are shifting and higher education in the region will not be immune to the changes sweeping across the region.

Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia collectively have spent billions of dollars importing higher education institutions to the region and have created educational hubs, attracting thousands of students each year to both undergraduate and graduate programs.

The United Arab Emirates overtook the United Kingdom to become the third-leading destination for Arab students studying abroad behind France and the United States. Collectively, the top 10 Middle Eastern senders, which include Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have sent more than 40,000 students to the United Arab Emirates for study. The Emirates also attracts significant numbers of students from Kuwait, Lebanon and Nigeria. According to a report published by the Observatory on Borderless Education, the United Arab Emirates is the second leading country for international branch campuses behind China.

In October 2018, The UAE eased student visa regulations, making it easier for students to secure long-term residence and employment after graduation.

The governments of the Middle East are determined to continue to play a major role in future international student mobility and international collaborations. Innovation and creativity are the hallmarks of many of the region’s colleges and universities. And the apparent shift of international students’ enrollments from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean can only benefit educational institutions in the Middle East.


Final note: This article was written prior to the murder of Washington Post reporter, Jamal Khashoggi, in Turkey. Since November, 2018, worldwide condemnation of the murder has altered public opinion about the Crown Prince, his stalled internal reforms, the Saudi-sponsored war in Yemen and blockade of Qatar.

The sands have once again shifted in the Middle East.



2017-2018 International Student Enrollment in the United States

December 18th, 2018 by



2017 -2018 International Student Enrollment in the United States



According to Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, a report presented by the Institute for International Education and the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, in the 2017-18 academic year the following are the statistics of the enrollment of international students in American colleges and universities.

A total enrollment of 1,094,790 international students enrolled last year, a 1.5 percent increase over the previous year. The increase is mostly due to an increase in the number of international students participating in Optional Practical Training. OPT participants’ numbers increased by 15.8 percent from 175,695 to 203,460. Nearly half of all Optical Practical Training are from China and India.

New international students decreased by 6.6 percent from the previous year from 290,840 to 271,740.  Enrollment in undergraduate programs decreased 6.3 percent and 5.5 percent in graduate degree programs. Non-degree programs, including English language training programs decreased 9.7 percent.

Total program enrollments decreased by 1.3 percent from 903,125 to 891,330.

Chinese students, who compose one-third of all international student enrollments in the United States, increased 3.6 percent. However, in the previous year, the growth of Chinese students was 6.8 percent.

Indian students, who compose nearly a fifth of all international students studying in the United States, increased 5.4 percent. However, in the previous year, the growth of Indian students was 12.3 percent.

Students from Brazil, Nepal Pakistan, Nigeria and Vietnam enrolled in higher numbers in 2017-18 than in the previous year.

Students from Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Canada and South Korea enrolled in fewer numbers than in the previous year. (2017-18 marked the seventh straight year of decreased enrollment from Korean students.)

Not surprising students from countries affected by the travel ban, enrolled in decreased numbers, including students from Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia.

The number of American students studying abroad increased 2.3 percent. A total of 332,727 students studied abroad for credit in 2016-17, about 10 percent of all undergraduate students. Nearly 65 percent of all American students studying abroad studied on short-term programs. The most popular countries for study abroad programs are: The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Germany and China.

International students studying in the United States contributed $42.4 billion to the American economy in 2017. That represents an increase of $39 billion in the previous year.


Key Takeaways

There are many factors contributing to the decrease in the number of international students enrolling in American colleges and universities, including:

Political climate

Uncertainty over travel bans, visa approvals and OPT options after graduation

Non-competitive tuition and fee structure

Safety issues

Competition from international education hubs in the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia



The statistics in this report reflect the enrollment of international students in the United States from the previous year, not the current year. There is no indication that going forward, enrollment decreases will be reversed.

There are political, economic and technological trends that have, and will continue to impact, international student enrollment worldwide.

Online enrollment will impact the mobility of international students, especially the future enrollment of Indian and African students.


Will China dominate international higher education in the near or distant future?

December 4th, 2018 by


Will China dominate international higher education in the near or distant future?


This question may be redundant.  The question to ask may be when will China become the dominant player in international higher education. China is already a major player in international higher education.

Twenty years ago there were 3.4 million students in China. Today there are more than 26 million. In 2017 nearly 490,000 international students studied in China, an increase of 10.5 percent from the previous year.  Since 2004, the number of international students enrolling in Chinese colleges and universities has increased by nearly 300 percent. China is currently the third most popular destination for international students and could overtake the UK next year in terms of international student enrollment.

China has made a long-term investment in higher education. The country’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative has enrolled, and will continue to enroll, students from the countries along the ancient “Silk Road.” Last year 317,000 international students enrolled in China were from “Belt and Road” countries and two-thirds of all international students studying in China are from “Belt and Road” countries.

China has significantly increased enrollment of African students by offering generous scholarship and employment opportunities. In 2017, 12 percent, or nearly 59,000 students, studying in China received scholarship assistance.

It is by design, rather than accident, that the number of international students continues to significantly increase each year.  Chinese tuition and fees are lower than in most other universities. Tuition and fees for one year of study in China is approximately $3,200. The number of English taught programs has increased by 63 percent in the last five years and that element has attracted students from around the world.

A new visa policy allowing international students to work and remain in China after graduation is also another factor attracting a global international student population. According to China’s National Development and Reform Commission, 89 percent of international students plan to pursue short-term internships and 95 percent plan to take advantage of China’s policy of allowing foreigners to work after graduation.

In 2017, China was the most popular destination for Asian and Southeast Asian international students, including students from South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, India, Japan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Laos.

In October 2018, “The Jakarta Post” reported that there are currently 68,000 Indonesian students studying in China and the Chinese government has set a goal of increasing that number to 100,000.

China is now the leading host for international branch campuses. China has edged out the United Arab Emirates as the top host country.

In 2015, Xiamen University, in collaboration with the Malaysian government, opened up its first international branch campus abroad.

Will China dominate international higher education in the near or distant future? The statistics speak for themselves.

In a subsequent article I will examine the rise of Chinese universities in global ranking lists and China’s purchases of schools throughout the world.