In recent years, declining birth rates have led to ever-smaller classes of high school graduates, and this trend is only expected to accelerate in coming years. These demographic changes represent an existential threat for many colleges and universities, particularly those in Pennsylvania, where the birth rate has been in steeper decline than in the nation as a whole.
Competition among colleges and universities to enroll this shrinking cohort of potential students will be fierce – and institutions, particularly those that are smaller, private or in rural settings may be forced to close their doors.
In 2015, Sweet Briar College, a private women’s school in rural Virginia with an enrollment of less than 1,000 students, was the canary in the coal mine for this issue. The college announced its intention to close. A massive alumni fundraising effort allowed it to remain open – but the future remains uncertain.
Earlier this year, two small private rural colleges in New England also began to explore the possibility of closing. You can expect this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
Institutions such as these are among the most vulnerable to closure or mergers, but public institutions will face challenges as well. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), comprised of 14 public universities around the Commonwealth, is taking an aggressive approach to restructuring in order to remain competitive in this changing environment. Of course, it doesn’t help matters that Pennsylvania consistently ranks among the worst states in terms of public funding for higher education.
All of this means that communications professionals in the higher education sector are being asked to keep more and more plates spinning at once. In addition to their responsibilities protecting the school’s reputation and brand, there is now an added focus on driving enrollment numbers. That can leave communications departments stretched extra thin.
At Ceisler Media, we offer a range of services that can free up college and university communications teams to play to their strengths and focus on the core elements of their missions.
Whether it’s preparing an emergency communications plan, providing media training to key administrators, developing social media content and targeting strategies, or advocating for funding or policies at the state capitol, the Ceisler Media team has the knowledge, experience, and technical capacity to help colleges and universities begin planning now for the challenges to come. Our job is to ensure they stay ahead of the curve in extremely challenging times.
Drew Murren is an Associate in Ceisler Media's Harrisburg office.