Saint Michael’s College in Vermont sees the writing on the wall and although they’re in good shape, they’re taking steps to deal with the coming crisis.

Ry Rivard of Inside Higher Ed reports.

Shrinking as a Strategy

After surveying the fate of small private liberal arts colleges, Saint Michael’s College in Vermont is now planning ahead for enrollment declines, inexpensive online classes for credit and debt-averse students and families.

College officials say they now have a way to keep the college sustainable by making it smaller. Even though enrollment is steady and there’s been a budget surplus each of the past six years, Saint Michael’s is planning to enroll 10 to 15 percent fewer students over the next three to four years and, in turn, employ about 10 percent fewer faculty and staff members. That approach runs counter to the strategies of some liberal arts colleges that are saying that they will thrive by getting larger, even as many doubt that a growing number of students will be seeking liberal arts degrees.

A task force of three Saint Michael’s alumni, three faculty and three trustees spent about nine months studying what will happen to small tuition-dependent liberal arts colleges and found there’s a “perfect storm” approaching.

For Saint Michael’s, those projected problems include a 15 percent drop in high school graduates in the Northeast, but also an unsustainable pricing model that is going to collide with a student debt bubble and large-enrollment online courses from elite universities that will drive down costs.