Rising need and falling enrollment shut down another small private college

Enrollment has fallen by half at Holy Names University, a 154-year institution in Oakland, California.

Holy Names University, a 154-year institution in Oakland, California, is the latest small private college to announce that it will close at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Holy Names had “struggled to remain” open while administrators sought a merger as they grappled with rising operational costs, declining enrollment, and students’ increased need for financial aid. COVID and the subsequent economic downturn disproportionately impacted HNU students, leaders said earlier this week. Prior to the announcement, the university had canceled its NCAA sports programs as of the end of the spring season, issued WARN Act notices of potential closure to staff beginning Dec. 1, and laid off 32 employees.

“We have been doing our best to find a partner to keep the university functioning and continue HNU’s mission,” Holy Names Board Chairperson Steven Borg said. “While we’ve had interest in long-term collaboration from potential partners, we do not have the type of interest that would sustain HNU in continuing to offer its own programs and services, so we are forced to make the difficult decision to close and designate a transfer institution in the best interest of our students.”

Some 520 undergraduates and 423 graduate students were enrolled at HNU in the fall of 2022. That number has fallen sharply to a total of 449 as some students struggled to make tuition payments for the spring semester while others felt too uncertain about the institution’s future, leaders said. Still, students who complete their degrees by this spring or are enrolled in the university’s graduate nursing programs will be able to graduate from Holy Names.

Leaders have reached an agreement to shift HNU’s academic programs to the Dominican University of California in nearby San Rafael so students can transfer there and graduate on schedule. Dominican is also working to offer positions to HNU faculty and staff. HNU leaders are also hoping to find an institution to take over its Kodály Music Program and spin off The Raskob Learning Institute and Day School.

There is $49 million in debt on the university’s property while deferred maintenance and compliance upgrades on the 65-year-old campus could cost more than $200 million. Leaders had developed a five-year business plan and secured long-term financing but the COVID-19 pandemic upended that work. “Increasingly college costs have become a challenge for many students and their families,” Borg added. “HNU, which extends significant institutional aid, is dependent upon tuition and residence hall revenue.”

Earlier this month, leaders of the nearly 200-year-old Cazenovia College outside Syracuse, New York, announced the school would close in spring 2023 due to a 40% drop in enrollment and the financial strains of inflation. 

The COVID pandemic severely hindered the college’s recruiting and fundraising efforts. It also forced the college to make large investments in safety and technology at a time when revenues were sapped as students took leaves of absence and postponed their enrollment. Even before COVID, the population of college-aged individuals was declining in the Northeast U.S., Cazenovia administrators said. 

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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