Aligning financial sustainability with student access and success: Opportunities for private colleges

Full Report

America's private nonprofit colleges and universities are facing serious financial and demographic challenges. How they respond can affect students for years to come.


Despite rising interest in strengthening college finances and increasing equity in student access and success, public discussions and institutional decision-making often treat these as goals as unrelated or even conflicting. This report takes a different approach, providing insights, examples and guiding principles for strengthening institutional financial sustainability through focused attention on student access, completion and overall success.

Key Insights

  • Many small, private colleges already have large numbers of students who are low-income, first-generation, and/or Black, Indigenous and people of color.
  • More institutions seek to maintain or increase enrollment of such students because of demographic realities, shifts in demand, institutional mission or all three.
  • Despite these enrollment objectives, the financial benefits to the institution of increasing equity in student access, completion and success is rarely explored in public discussions or featured in college profiles.

How can colleges without deep pockets strengthen their financial situation by serving today’s students well?


The researchers examined recent academic and practitioner research, expert analyses and public comments by key stakeholders to formulate their conclusions. They also conducted in-depth interviews with institutional leaders, subject-area experts and philanthropy professionals. 


Lauren Asher

LIA Strategies

Amy Holmes

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Greg Ratliff

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

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