A new study, Aligning Financial Sustainability with Student Access and Success: Opportunities for Private Colleges, published by TIAA Institute and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), highlights long-term academic and financial opportunities for small colleges by attracting and retaining those students who face the highest barriers to enrollment and completion.

Private nonprofit colleges that are smaller, less competitive, tuition-dependent, and/or have relatively low endowments are consistently identified as the most financially vulnerable, even more so during a pandemic. Yet researchers found that these schools can turn around their fiscal performance by reframing service to students with the most challenges–those from low-income households, who are first-generation and/ or are people of color–as an opportunity, rather than a challenge.

In particular, the report shows the financial benefit to schools that shift resources to focus on student retention rather than costly student recruitment. Redirecting some of those resources toward keeping students in school is more financially sustainable. Through interviews with higher education leaders and in-depth profiles of four schools’ experiences, the report illustrates approaches such as collaborating across departments, partnering with peer institutions, and digging into data to better understand student needs and behavior.

“Concerns about financial sustainability, particularly for tuition-dependent colleges, are even greater in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Anne Ollen, managing director at the TIAA Institute. “The recommendations and strategies shared in this report reinforce that it is possible–even helpful—to keep student success front and center while addressing financial concerns. Financial challenges don’t necessarily require straying from institutional mission and values.”

Read the full article about retaining low-income and diverse students at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.