The Next "2008 Crisis" May be Starting…

For the past year, I’ve been saying that the next 2008-like financial crisis would be coming again sometime soon (during the 2020s). However, it wouldn’t be the stock market that got hit this time; higher education will be affected this time around. Some friends agreed with me. Others scoffed and laughed. But if Oregon’s Marylhurst University is any indication of what’s to come, it may be starting sooner than any of us thought.

Marylhurst University

Portland’s Marylhurst University announced last Thursday that it would be closing. Currently, faculty are challenging the decision made by the Board of Trustees. It may be unlikely that the challenge will have any real effect. The university cited declining enrollment and financial constraints as the deciding factors in its closure. Since 2013, Marylhurst’s enrollment declined by hundreds of students, pressuring the institution to raise tuition. Tuition at Marylhurst for 15 credits per term, three terms in a full academic year, is $20,835. Was this high tuition part of the reason for the decline in enrollment?

University of Oregon Should be Concerned

For contrast, the University of Oregon, the state’s flagship university, currently prices its tuition at $11,571 per year for residents. Next year, tuition will be $11,898 for residents. Though the University of Oregon believes that it will have an increase in enrollment of 300 students, it needs to be careful. The university has also seen a decline in enrollment, which has happened since 2012.

Officials have said that this decline may last until 2022, but are they arrogant enough to believe that it can survive a 10-year decline? Others at the university have stated that they have a targeted increase of 300 students for the 2018-2019 academic year. Of course, we won’t know if this is going to be the case until the Office of Institutional Research publishes its 2018-2019 admissions report.

Which Colleges will be First…?

Assuming that I’m right about this crisis, the question is now more about what kind of institutions will be hit first? Initially, I thought that smaller, rural public colleges and universities would become defunct first. But Marylhurst University is either a signal or an anomaly. Marylhurst University is not only a private school, but it’s also religiously affiliated. There are a decent number of these kind of colleges and universities in Oregon. George Fox University, Corban University, Linfield College, and University of Portland are just a few out of many religiously affiliated schools in the state.

A serious in-depth look into which of these schools are potentially at risk would require a lot of research. First, one would have to look for trends in total enrollment and see if there are any trends in the change in tuition, too. Of course, trends aren’t always indicative of what may or may not happen. Remember how I said that Marylhurst University may be an anomaly?

The school that comes to mind when I think about a public college or university that may be at risk of closing at any given time is Eastern Oregon University. Students attending the university claim to love the small class sizes, lower tuition, and lower cost of living. However, the university was seriously considering closing nearly 10 years ago. In 2016, Eastern Oregon University was having its status reviewed and so was Southern Oregon University’s status. So far, the state has never closed a public university.