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Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead Boston

Matt Schifrin and Carter Coudriet of Forbes wrote an article about the financial ratings of private colleges, Dawn of the Dead: For Hundreds of the Nation’s Private Colleges, It’s Merge or Perish. The authors refer to Forbes’ analysis of the finances of 933 private, not-for-profit colleges with 500+ enrollments, stating that the majority of these institutions are in a precarious situation with their high tuition, tuition-dependent financial model, declining overall enrollments, and competitive landscape in higher education. It’s unsurprising that the wealthiest private colleges are doing well and in Forbes’ ratings, score a GPA of 4.5 and an A+ rating. However, the number of schools receiving a GPA of 1.5 or lower and a D has swelled from 110 in 2013 to 177 in 2019. Only 34 schools earned A+’s, with a total of 498 colleges earning C’s, an increase over 434 in 2013.

In addition to the previously cited contributing factors to the financial decline, there is excess capacity in higher education. According to Kevin Coyne of Emory University and Robert Witt of the University of Alabama System, there is a 6.4% excess capacity among public colleges, but a 12.4% excess among private institutions. Interestingly, the smallest privates have an overcapacity of 28%. As president of a very scalable, online institution, I believe that Coyne and Witt have not considered the vastly scalable operations of institutions with large online populations like APUS. Those considerations would certainly expand the overcapacity numbers immensely.

Schifrin and Coudriet note that most college administrators have their proverbial heads in the sand. They quote several former college presidents as stating that these small colleges have business plans that call for growth and never achieve it. Furthermore, the idea that most colleges will merge is not evidenced by actual mergers. Coyne and Witt examined 55 private, not-for-profit closures and most shut down and liquidated their remaining assets, with only 14 entering into a merger agreement.

The recent decision by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) to allow colleges to poach each other’s students will accelerate the demise of the schools with the lowest financial ratings, posit the authors. Very few colleges have been able to swim upstream and improve their ratings this year, and that’s either a sign of a declining sector or a business model that no longer works.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.


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