“Because we’re in that position is exactly why we thought we could ask those questions,” said Smith College President Carol Christ. “We aren’t worried about what’s going to happen next year.”
And Smith isn’t alone. In the past year, presidents of several elite liberal arts colleges have questioned whether the financial model underpinning their institutions – one relying on high tuition costs and student aid paying for expensive instruction and residential life on beautiful campuses — is sustainable over the long term. They have also begun to question whether the education they offer, with small classes, relatively rigid schedules, limited course and major offerings, and intense academic rigor, is going to continue to appeal to students.
“The model – if it’s not breaking – it’s showing signs of age,” said Richard Kneedler, former president of Franklin and Marshall College, a liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, and a consultant with Ann Duffield and Colleagues, a presidential consulting firm. “The price has been pushed up at a number of the top institutions. It’s gotten to the point where people are asking a lot of questions about it, and this high price is creating a sense in part of the public that higher education is becoming a commercial exercise.”