After “exhausting all avenues” to avoid going under, Notre Dame College closes

It's the same formula we heard about all 2023: declining enrollment, a shrinking pool of traditionally college-aged students, rising costs and significant debt.

Administrators from Notre Dame College in Ohio have announced that the century-old Roman Catholic school in Ohio will be closing its doors at the end of the semester. The college has already coordinated Teach-Out agreements with several neighboring colleges and universities to ensure the closure does not hurt its students.

“We are all saddened by the need to make this decision, but rest assured that as we move forward, we are doing everything we can to ensure a smooth transition for our students to continue their education,” said Notre Dame College Interim President John Smetanka in a statement.

Signs of trouble began to seep into the public consciousness following the resignation of President J. Michael Pressimone in November. The announcement caught the community off-guard. Soon after, murmurs began surrounding the health of the school.

“We want to assure you that our primary focus remains on our mission, which we have upheld for the past 100 years, and on serving our students in the best way possible,” said the school in a statement responding to the uneasiness.

But those words cannot erase a debt exceeding $10 million, WKYC reports. Following a failed attempt to absorb the struggling college into Cleveland State University, NDC had exhausted all its avenues to keep from going under. Nine schools have guaranteed admissions for NDC’s remaining students with more than 60 credits completed. Such students can expect all their credits to transfer, and some will match their financial aid packages.

NDC had 1,248 total students in 2021-22, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Founded in 1922 as a women’s college, NDC became coeducational in 2001.

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The anatomy of a college closure

Notre Dame College’s fate is one we’ve become acquainted with in 2023. A small private, often religiously oriented liberal arts college struggling with a poor budget deficit can no longer rely on a regional pool of traditional-aged college students due to demographic changes. With numbers already pointing downward, the pandemic inflamed national enrollment declines, dramatically shortening administrators’ window to react and leaving far fewer students to enroll to stop the bleeding. In dire straits, the college has no option but to negotiate a merger or acquisition. If it fails, it shuts its doors. Centuries of serving higher education erased.

“It’s not corruption, it’s not financial misappropriation of funds,” Rachel Burns, a senior policy analyst at SHEEO, told The Hechinger Report. “It’s just that they can’t rebound enrollment.”

At least 14 nonprofit colleges announced they were closing in 2023. While King’s College in New York state has not technically closed, it has laid off staff and is not offering classes this academic year. New York had the most institutions to close in 2023 with three, followed by Wisconsin with two. Notre Dame College’s closure marks the first in Ohio since at least last year.

The following are some notable closures:

  • Finlandia University (Mich.): Did not enroll students beginning in fall 2023, citing a lack of interest from high school students in a college education. It was one of 26 schools affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The university was 126 years old.
  • Iowa Wesleyan University: Closed during the conclusion of the 2022-23 academic year. Aside from enrollment challenges, administrators cited inflation and a “significant drop” in fundraising. The United Methodist institution also called out Gov. Kim Reynolds for denying the school a $12 million request in American Resue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help stabilize the school’s debt. IWU was 181 years old.
  • Medaille University (N.Y.): Following a failed acquisition with Trocaire College, the Buffalo-based college went under due to the usual causes. Enrollment in the past 10 years had dropped by almost 50%, from 2,600 students in fall 2012 to around 1,600 in the last academic year, according to The Buffalo News. The university was 86 years old.
  • University of Wisconsin–Platteville Richland: Along with this University of Wisconsin campus closure, two other campuses moved entirely online.

Multnomah University in Oregon barely escaped closure by striking a deal with Jessup University in California to become a satellite campus. The two private Christian institutions considered this move a “merger of missions” due to their “remarkably similar histories of equipping students to make positive impacts in their local communities and the world.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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