Buy Someone Else’s College

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Published : June 30th, 2020
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Category : Editorials

A lot of existing colleges and universities are going to go out of business. Hooray.

Build Your Own College series

We have seen the general pattern of behavior of these institutions, which is that they do not reform themselves in any meaningful way, and simply roll over and die.

There is an interesting example of a college that did reform itself: St. John’s College. The college actually dates from 1696. Institutional rot, and the inability to adjust to the changing needs of the time, and finally the Great Depression, were probably some of the reasons why it was failing by the early 1930s. Then, the college completely reformed itself, adopting the Great Books curriculum for which it is known today, which has enabled it to achieve modest success and a high reputation for 84 years now.

“In 1936, the college lost its accreditation. The Board of Visitors and Governors, faced with dire financial straits caused by the Great Depression, invited educational innovators Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan to make a completely fresh start. They introduced a new program of study, which remains in effect today. Buchanan became dean of the college, while Barr assumed its presidency. In his guide Cool Colleges, Donald Asher writes that the New Program was implemented to save the college from closing: ‘Several benefactors convinced the college to reject a watered-down curriculum in favor of becoming a very distinctive academic community. Thus this great institution was reborn as a survival measure.'”

But, this is rare.

This produces a buyer’s market for college campuses. (We could also include similar campuses, for example a private high-school academy, or a public school that has fallen out of use.) I have been advocating the simplest and, perhaps, most effective form of higher education, the Special Man with a Bookshelf. You could start in his living room, as Abraham Pierson, founder of Yale University, did in 1701. But, we eventually want our institutions to get larger than this. Many of these institutions will probably be more overtly vocational in character, which is how it should be. But, some will aspire to the heights of what education could be, traditionally known as the Liberal Arts.

There are probably some Founders out there (a wealthy person with ambitions to establish a new institution) who don’t want to start quite so small, but might instead imagine a place where you could begin with three or four like-minded Teachers who share a Vision of what education should be, perhaps a dedicated Administrator to help the institution grow, and perhaps thirty or fifty students in the first class. After four years, you would have 100-200 students, and if the experiment is popular and successful, you could expand from there.

200 students, plus perhaps 15-20 Teachers and their families, plus perhaps 3 Administrators and some support staff such as a cook, handyman or groundskeeper, is not a small operation. Thus, we could either build a campus, or buy one. Definitely, buy one. Let’s see how the market looks.

Listings of Schools for Sale

Here is a rather nice 40,000 sf school, offered for $20 million — it works out to $500 a square foot. It was previously a girl’s boarding high school. That’s pretty expensive, actually. We are going down the list in terms of price.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

Here is a 42,500 sf school in Brooklyn, New York. At $16,500,000, that’s $388/sf. In Brooklyn.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

This 49,000sf school was built in 1921 as the St. Theresa Catholic School, in San Antonio, TX. $7.2 million or $147/sf.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

This 187,000sf school in Philadelphia, PA was a public middle school. $2,500,000 works out to $13 per square foot. It is walking distance to a train station.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

This 93,280sf school in Columbus, OH is for sale for $1,230,000.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

This noble edifice, of 22,425sf in Webster, MA, is yours for $625,000.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

There are a lot of churches available, which often have additional rooms attached that were used as schools. This one in Akron, OH has 12,053sf and would cost you $275,000.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

This 46,000sf facility in Haverhill, MA probably has structural issues. But, you can have it for $100,000. Includes a basketball court, bowling alley, and a library.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

Here is a very nice complete college campus: the former home of Marlboro College, near Brattleboro, VT. No price is listed, as it is an open bidding process. But, I bet it would be a lot cheaper than building it yourself. 58 buildings, 210,000+ sf, 250+ beds of dormitories, 29+ classrooms, theater, etc. etc.

The Howe Military Academy, near Fort Wayne, IN, with 26 buildings over 100 acres, was recently for sale for $4 million. It once had over 400 students. It also includes a historic mansion.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

Atlantic Union College, in Lancaster, MA, with 469,000 sf, 51 buildings and dorms for 800, is for sale. Price is negotiable.

24hGold - Buy Someone Else’s C...

Yes, you can have a whole college for not much more than what some people, who are wealthy enough to found colleges, spend on their third vacation home. You can have a very nice nineteenth-century school building for the cost of a luxury automobile.

Have fun with it.

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Nathan Lewis was formerly the chief international economist of a firm that provided investment research for institutions. He now works for an asset management company based in New York. Lewis has written for the Financial Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, Japan Times, Pravda, and other publications. He has appeared on financial television in the United States, Japan, and the Middle East.
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