Simple-there are more of them. By considering a small college, you’ve just increased your possible college options by two-thirds. There are a lot more small colleges than larger colleges. This has nothing to do with which are “better.” This has everything to do with paying less for college and the basics of supply and demand.
Basic Supply and Demand
There is a larger supply of small colleges compared to larger colleges. If the distribution of colleges by size reflected students’ general preferences, this wouldn’t be a problem. But the fact is that many high school students have a preference for larger schools over smaller schools, the exact opposite of the existing supply situation. This means that larger schools can and do charge more because they’re in demand.
Just think of any toy craze at Christmas. The same thing happens in higher education.
Now of course, it could be that the demand for these schools has nothing to do with their size. Students really want to attend these colleges for other reasons such as academic reputation, program availability, or location. This could very well be true. I’m not going to pretend to be a statistical expert and say otherwise.
Reduced Supply=Increase Cost
Whatever the reason, however, the fact remains that eliminating small colleges will dramatically reduce your choices. Maybe you’re good with that, you KNOW that small colleges won’t work for your situation.
But you just need to be prepared to pay the increased cost that comes with wanting a popular product.
The following table shows the number of four-year institutions with at least 500 full-time undergraduates by size.
As you can see, among private colleges where tuition isn’t regulated by the state, students are paying significantly more to attend larger colleges. What we don’t know is if the increased cost is because students at larger colleges are getting a better education than those at smaller colleges.
Just what are you paying for?
The truth is that we really don’t know. Colleges make it very difficult to actually compare the benefits of the education they provide. What little evidence exists one way or another is generally ignored in favor of conventional wisdom.
But if you rely on conventional wisdom that says larger schools are better, you may not be just paying more but also missing out on some great opportunities. See, small colleges know that the need to compete with the reputation of larger colleges and have developed an incredible variety of programs to benefit their students.
Take a look at a few examples. Knox College has Immersion Terms that anyone interested in Clinical Psychology, Japan, Art, Theater, Entrepreneurship, or the Environment should consider. Hood College offers a Coastal Studies Semester through their Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies.
Luther College sponsors a Writers Festival that brings nationally recognized authors to campus. Nobel laureates gather annually at Gustavus Adolphus College to attend The Nobel Conference. And the Rhodes‘ St. Jude Summer Plus Fellowship is just one example of the many research/fellowship opportunities offered by small colleges.
The programs and their quality will vary from school to school, just as they do within larger universities. The point is that with a little searching, students can find opportunities at smaller colleges that can rival those you would expect at larger universities.
Remember, this isn’t about smaller colleges being better than larger universities. The reality is that for the majority of students, it’s what a student does while in college that will have the greatest impact on their future than the school itself.
This is about expanding options.
If cost isn’t a primary concern for your family, keep size preferences a primary consideration. But if you are interested in significantly cutting the cost of college, than size should not be your first step in targeting colleges.
The table below shows the number of colleges with 500 or more full-time undergraduates by size by state.
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