Friday, January 14, 2011

Death of the College Town

John Gann is a marketing consultant and he is interested in working with college towns trying to promote their advantages.  He has some very good point about some of the challenges facing them down the road.

John L. Gann, NewGeography, 21 December 2011

...the growth of for-profit universities, fast-track degree programs, and lower-cost distance learning offer strong competition to the traditional economic base of college towns that relies on large numbers of students spending four years in their town.

In addition, there is likely to be a reduction in the number of future college students, as the millennial or “echo boom” begins to pass through their teens and early twenties. To survive, college towns have to reinvent themselves in order to “find a new way to prosper and thrive” in future years.

Just as convention centers have been hit by distance-provided-information, the college town (if not the college itself) is likely to come under increased cost pressures.  Obviously the experience of physically going to a place of learning and immersing yourself in the learning experience is not going to be replaced yet with virtual-universities.  But going to college is a lot more expensive than going to a convention.

The demise of the echo boomer children is potentially much more problematic.  Their graduation will glut (or optimistically: supply) a market that will be under extreme pressure as the big hump of the camel’s back –the 1950s birth year baby boomers – retire.  As the retirees stop producing and start spending down their savings, there is going to be a huge potential drag on the economy.  College towns will be going through these issues, like everyone else, but will also be facing a lack of clients (students).

As he notes, not every one of these towns is a good candidate for a min-tech center.  The Town of Wake Forest (the birth place of, but not current location of Wake Forest University), just North of Raleigh, has the Southeast Baptist Seminary.  The presence of Wake Forest College, and then the Seminary  having been anchoring points for the community since the early 19th century.  Children of the Educators children in the local school system help to bump up the grade point average a bit, and offer a slightly broader base for local retail.  But the tie-ins to industry are a little obscure.
Downtown Wake Forest , North Carolina

Downtown Wake Forest, North Carolina (from Bing)

Downtown New Paltz, New York which looks a little like Franklin Street at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (from linked article above)

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