The Atlantic

The Surreal End of an American College

Small schools across the United States are facing budget shortfalls and low enrollment—leading some to shut down in the middle of students’ higher-education experience.
Source: Emily Jan / The Atlantic

Updated at 12:07 p.m. on June 19, 2019

Like most other colleges across the country, Newbury College, a small, private liberal-arts school in Brookline, Massachusetts, held classes through the end of this past spring semester and then bid farewell to cap-and-gown-wearing seniors. But unlike almost every other college, those classes, and that farewell, were the school’s last: Newbury officially ceased operations at the end of May.

One of the first sources to publicly confirm the long-rumored closure was the president’s blog, where the news was shared last December. “It is with a heavy heart,” the school’s president, Joseph Chillo, wrote, “that I announce our intention to commence the closing of Newbury College, this institution we love so dearly.”

After that announcement, which was also blasted out in an email, about 25 percent of the student body decided to not even come back to campus for the spring semester, according to Chillo. But for the students who did—as well as their professors who stuck around—life on campus had already flatlined by the time they returned in January. As the light-pink blossoms began to sprout from the campus’s weeping cherry trees, Newbury’s nearly eight acres of Georgian-style buildings felt like a shadow of the school it’d been just a few months prior. It was no longer the college that Deborah Mael, an English professor who taught at the institution for most of its existence, remembered; the benches where her now-adult daughters had sat as kids remained empty, as did the dorms where they had relished the opportunity to hang out with older girls.

The dining hall, typically so crowded during peak lunch hours that the lines would snake out onto the neatly manicured quad, was too quiet to enjoy. The gym, which used to resonate with the clanks of athletes at weight machines and the thuds of runners on treadmills, felt abandoned, too. Faculty offices were hollowed out. Classroom attendance was abysmal. Enrollment plummeted from a little more than 600 before the closure announcement to almost half that by the end of the semester. “It hasn’t been much of a dwindling,” Mallory Stefan, who just finished her junior year

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