President Biden’s proposal to make public colleges free could mean more students may be able to go to college, but it could also mean the end for some private institutions.
Wells College sits on a picturesque tree-filled campus on the shores of New York’s Cayuga Lake, with brick buildings dating back to its founding in 1868, a year when a different president, Andrew Johnson, was impeached.
It has a modest $24 million endowment and enrolls a little more than 400 full-time students. It’s quite different from the image of blue-blooded and cash-rich institutions like Harvard University, with $42 billion in endowments and 36,000 students.
Its margins are so slim, in fact, that last May, when Wells faced the prospect of the pandemic closing its campus in the fall, the college’s president, Jonathan Gibralter, wrote that closure could push Wells over the edge. “Wells simply will not receive enough revenue to continue operations,” he wrote in a letter.