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We like to think that a college is forever, and some in this world are mighty old. The reality is that it’s a competitive world out there, and that goes for colleges, too.

Last week, Morris Brown College announced that it was in danger of foreclosure. The Atlanta institution had taken on too much debt and seen enrollment fall. It lost its accreditation in 2003, after an era of financial mismanagement, and that meant that it could no longer receive federal funding – including student financial aid.

Morris Brown College’s situation isn’t typical, but it happens. Each year, a handful of colleges close, merge, or restructure. Almost all of these are very small private colleges. often religious or single-sex institutions, that have had dwindling enrollment and problems with fundraising.

Although closings are rare, they do happen, and they are upsetting to the students who are attending at the time. They may have trouble transferring, especially if they need financial aid.

So, when looking at colleges, think carefully about the college’s financial position. Is its accreditation in jeopardy? Is its tuition price out of line with similar colleges (too low, and it may be desperate for students; too high, and it may be desperate for dollars)? Does it have institutional sources of financial aid, such as scholarships funded by alumni? What is the value of its endowment per student enrolled?

The Department of Education evaluates colleges’ financial responsibility. The list last fall included 180 private colleges. Parents should think long and hard before sending a child to a school on this list, especially if he or she needs financial aid to pay the bills. Trustees of these colleges should think long and hard about keeping the institutions open.