Enrollment drop forces college to close undergrad programs

By Corey Williams
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - Marygrove College, a small liberal arts school surrounded by home­s in a northwest Detroit neighborhood, is shutting down its undergraduate programs due to declining enrollment.

Beginning in January, the 112-year-old institution will offer only master's degree programs and graduate professional development, officials said Wednesday.

"Undergraduate studies will close to allow Marygrove to remain viable for the future," the school said in a statement.

Other liberal arts colleges across the country are feeling similar pangs due to revenue losses from enrollment drops. Some like Trinity Lutheran University in Everett, Washington, and Marian Court College in Swampscott, Massachusetts, have ended operations.

Marygrove's enrollment peaked in 2013 with more than 1,850 graduate and undergraduate students. Total enrollment dropped to 966 by last fall. For the 2013-14 school year, Marygrove had 1,041 undergraduate students. That number plummeted to 491 by this past June.

"Regrettably, Marygrove has experienced the same enrollment and financial issues as many liberal arts colleges across the country and the state," said Elizabeth Burns, the school's president. "Vigorous marketing and recruitment efforts have failed to provide sufficient revenue from our undergraduate programs to continue operations as usual."

A recent analysis also found that Marygrove is not sustainable in its current business model and undergraduate enrollment is projected to be lower than last fall, she added.

Marygrove's board "voted to continue with strong graduate studies and professional development because grad studies are sustainable and in demand," said Kay Benesh, trustee president.

Marygrove was founded in 1905 in Monroe, Michigan, by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic organization. The school was relocated to Detroit about 90 years ago. It is active in the city's revitalization of surrounding neighborhoods.

"Schools like Marygrove, small liberal arts schools, are very enrollment driven and very tuition driven," says Christopher McCord, Northern Illinois University provost and president-elect of the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences, an organization of arts and sciences deans.

"Such schools have run on pretty slim margins," he added. "A few students difference in their class size can really make or break. A larger institution may see cycles in enrollment and can navigate those changes. Very often these are small schools that don't have very large endowments ... don't have any reserves they can count on."

McCord said competition among colleges and universities for students has become stiffer.

"Some of it is just demographics," he said. "I'm in the Midwest and we know that high school-age students in the Midwest are declining. We're in the Chicago region. Every school in the country recruits in the Chicago region."

Incoming and returning students for Marygrove's winter semester have been notified of the change. The school says it will help them identify alternative colleges and universities that offer their programs.

Chris Jodway recently decided to switch from religious studies at Marygrove to music. He says there were three students in one of his music classes last semester.

"It was kind of known that the school was struggling," said Jodway, 24, of Romulus. "I thought they would always figure a way to get through it."

Jodway spoke with a counselor Wednesday about his options. He has about 68 credits and may be able to earn an associate's degree after this fall.

"In that sense I'm kind of lucky. I can get a degree out of it," Jodway said, adding that he's not sure what he'll do next year.

Marygrove also expects to cut some faculty and staff.

Published: Fri, Aug 11, 2017


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