Analysis: Why Did 6 Colleges Shut Down Over The Past 12 Months?

Zinger Key Points
  • A ransomware attacked paralyzed Illinois' Lincoln College for three months.
  • Judson College had 80 students when it closed.

On March 23, the students and faculty of New Jersey’s Bloomfield College received a letter from the school’s president, Marcheta P. Evans, addressing concerns that the financially struggling college might be forced to close its doors.

“I write today to share with you an important update on Bloomfield College and our pathway moving forward,” Evans wrote. “It is with great pleasure – and no small degree of relief – that the Bloomfield College Board of Trustees has authorized me to finalize and execute an agreement with Montclair State University through which Montclair will provide financial support to Bloomfield College, if needed, to ensure the College can remain open through the 2022-23 academic year as together we work toward our goal of establishing a permanent relationship before the end of the next academic year.

“The level of support needed from Montclair may be reduced, thanks to a $5 million allocation in Governor Phil Murphy’s detailed state budget proposal, released earlier today,” Evans added. “That funding will help ensure Bloomfield will remain open and allow time to develop the details of a permanent relationship.”

Bloomfield’s dilemma was not unique – prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many American colleges and universities have been experiencing dire financial problems over the past several years, fueled by declining enrollment and increased operating costs. The pandemic brought more havoc to an already perilous situation.

According to the most recent study published to date on the subject – the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center’s report from last October – undergraduate enrollment has been trending downward, most notably in private for-profit four-year and public two-year institutions, with considerable enrollment losses among traditional college-age students (-2.6% for 18-20 and -3.3% for 21-24).

While the study noted that enrollment was up at “highly selective private nonprofit institutions” and “highly selective state flagships,” it also grimly noted that “all other selectivity categories are declining, including, most steeply, at less selective public institutions (-4.9%).”

While some schools shared the good fortune of Bloomfield and were able to find another school that would accommodate a merger, others were unable to find a financial savior and were forced to close their doors. Let’s consider the fate of six schools that went out of business over the past 12 months.

Becker College: This Worcester, Massachusetts-based school traced its roots back to Leicester Academy in 1784. The school’s financial institution frayed to the point that the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education took a rare step in March 2021 of openly speculating that the school’s future was uncertain. The school took the hint and announced its termination plans in May 2021, officially closing three months later.

Concordia College: This Bronxville, New York-based school was founded in 1881 and was part of the eight campus Concordia University System operated by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The school’s financial difficulties resulted in its accreditation being put on probation in June 2019 and by January 2021 it announced it would stop offering classes ahead of the fall 2021 semester. Concordia’s President John Nunes blamed the school’s demise on unspecified challenges that were “accelerated by the pandemic.”

See Also: Worse Than The Global Financial Crisis?

Judson College: This Marion, Alabama-based private women’s college was founded in 1838 by the Siloam Baptist Church and was the fifth-oldest women’s college in the nation. By the fall of 2021, the notion of a college only for female students was far beyond anachronism – the school’s enrollment totaled 80. In a press statement, the school glumly noted that its financial strains “came to a head when one of Judson’s creditors called the note on a loan, which was due (and not renewed) two days before the May 6 scheduled Board meeting.” The school declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and ceased operating on July 31, 2021.

Lincoln College: This predominantly Black college was founded in 1865 by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The school suffered a double-edged trauma of deteriorating enrollment during the pandemic followed by a ransomware attack in December 2021 that took it offline for three months until a ransom of approximately $100,000 was paid – the school blamed the cyberattack on Iranian sources. When the school was able to regain control of its systems and run an enrollment projection, it was determined that it could no longer continue operations without a massive financial infusion. The school closed on May 13.

Marymount California University: The latest school to fade away is this Rancho Palos Verdes, California-based institution founded in 1932 by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. The school reached a deal in July 2021 with another Catholic school, Florida’s Saint Leo University, to merge but the latter’s accreditor rejected the agreement. With 500 students and 140 full-time staff members, the financially struggling school announced in April that it will shut down on Aug. 31.

Ohio Valley University: This Churches of Christ-associated school opened in Vienna, West Virginia in 1960. By December 2021, the student body bottomed out at approximately 200, its accreditation was on probation and the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission planned a meeting to consider revoking the school’s authorization to confer degrees. Michael Ross, the school’s president, declared the closure by stating, “We strive to be an institution that conducts business with integrity while being good stewards of our resources. Our current situation precludes us from doing that.”

Graphic below courtesy of College Cliffs.

Photo: Becker College, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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