NEW YORK — A U.S. senator says federal education officials should be forcing colleges that are struggling to stay afloat to notify students the schools are on the brink of closure as soon as they realize they are in dire financial straits.
Sen. Charles Schumer says the notice would allow students to make decisions about their future and avoid panic caused when schools announce their closing within days of shutting down.
"The bottom line is students shouldn't be caught unaware and have the rug pulled out from under them," the New York Democrat told The Associated Press. "They should get a warning. If students are going to be left high and dry, they should be able to plan."
Schumer is asking the U.S. Department of Education to create a formal warning system that would shine a light on the bleak fiscal status of some schools, allowing students to fully understand their college's financial standing.
Department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said the agency agrees that students should be warned. "That's why we've added such warnings to our College Scorecard and are considering additional regulatory options to improve information for current and prospective students," she said.
Pete Boyle, a vice president at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said sudden closures usually affect private, for-profit colleges and agreed there's merit to notifying students as early as a college deems reasonable. Most schools on the brink of closure also work to try to find a solution to stay open, but if the government enacted new guidelines requiring the colleges to make a premature closure announcement, "the option to remain open seems to be eliminated," he said.
Schumer's call comes just days after a struggling liberal arts college on Long Island rescinded its decision to close, as it continues negotiations with a London-based academic investment firm in a bid to survive. Dowling College, which has seen its enrollment plummet 62 percent since 2005, said in May that it would have to close its doors after months of trying unsuccessfully to find an academic partner to keep it afloat.
In the days following the announcement, hundreds of students visited the campus to obtain transcripts and begin making arrangements to transfer. But college President Albert Inserra said Thursday that he is hopeful its trustees can reach a financial arrangement with Global University Systems to keep the school open.
Dowling is not the only small private college struggling with financial trouble. Last month, Burlington College in Vermont, formerly led by the wife of Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, said it will close after taking on heavy debt.