INSIDE HIGHER ED: Can you imagine alumni of Corinthian Colleges rallying to save it?

Career College Central Summary:

  • Can you imagine alumni of Corinthian Colleges rallying to save it?
  • I can’t.
  • The contrast with Sweet Briar College is striking. Sweet Briar alumnae have apparently earned a stay of execution for the college, cobbling together $12 million in donations and getting judicial permission to free up another $16 million from the endowment to fund ongoing operations. That’s obviously not sustainable, but it could buy some time to try to create something sustainable. Making changes radical enough to defeat shifts in demographics will take vision, courage, and considerable luck, but it’s possible. 
  • Sweet Briar has some serious strikes against it, and the judicial decision doesn’t change any of them. It’s still rural, at a time when that’s out of favor. It’s still focused on liberal arts, at a time when private four-year liberal arts colleges below the elite level are struggling. It’s still single-sex, at a time when that, too, is harder to sustain. It’s in an area of flat or declining population, meaning that it can’t simply ride a demographic wave to growth. And it sent out a signal to the world that it’s precarious at best, which might well scare away people with other options.
  • Still, I have to be impressed by the vigor of the alums who pulled together to save it. They’ve organized nationally, retained lawyers, contributed time and money, and put real personal passion into saving it. It must have been doing something right for a long time to generate that kind of loyalty.
  • I haven’t seen anything similar for Corinthian. Corinthian actually had certain traits more in its favor than Sweet Briar did: it had a clear career focus, it had locations more in touch with current demographics, it was coed, and it was cheaper. (People who assume that for-profits are the most expensive options sometimes forget to compare them to private four-year colleges.) It had a significant online presence, and it didn’t have the overhead costs of dorms or horse stables. 
  • And yet, for all those advantages, it neglected quality control of its product. And its alums know it. 
  • Corinthian alums have been active, but in a very different way. Instead of trying to save Corinthian, they campaigned — also successfully — for loan forgiveness, arguing in essence that they never got what they paid for.  

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