Will Colleges Survive the Storm of Declining Enrollments? A Computational Model
PLoS ONE 15(8). 2020
30 Pages Posted: 11 May 2021
Date Written: 2020
The approaching decline in the U.S. college-age population, sometimes referred to as a “demographic storm,” has been identified as an existential threat to the future of American colleges and universities. This article conducts a model-driven analysis of three plausible college-level responses to declining applications. It draws on systems theory to conceptualize a tuition-dependent college as a complex service system and to develop a system dynamics model that captures key causal interrelationships and multiple feedback effects between faculty, facilities, tuition revenue, financials, reputation, and outcomes. Simulations with the college model suggest that common solutions such as reducing faculty or adding campus facilities may improve the college’s short-term financial position, but they are insufficient to ensure the long-term viability without the continuous tuition hikes. This model contributes to the research literature on the economics of higher education, and model-driven academic management and strategy. It also provides useful implications and insights that can inform policy-makers and college leaders.
Keywords: college enrollments; demand for college education; model-based management and strategy; higher education; financial sustainability; demographic storm; systems thinking; system dynamics; computational model; college closures; service systems
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation