Indiana college to close

Another American campus has decided to close up.  Saint Joseph’s College , a private, Catholic liberal arts institution in northwestern Indiana, will “suspend all activities” after this academic year.

The official announcement explains this in terms of finances, saying the college will:

suspend all activities on the Rensselaer Campus for the 2017-18 academic year, while the College evaluates how to reposition itself in a highly challenging Higher Education marketplace.

That’s an end for 200 faculty and staff, along with 904 students.

…Despite our best efforts, we were not able to escape the financial challenges that many tuition-dependent smaller universities have faced over the past several years. These challenges include fierce competition for students, the rapid rate of technological development, increased and evolving federal regulations, among others.

Apparently that financial challenge is around $100 million.

St. Joseph's College front page

The front page today, advertising off-campus next steps.

The current president took the job in 2016, and recently said he was blindsided by just how bad the college’s finances turned out to be.

“I don’t think that anybody was really aware — until time elapsed here — of the magnitude of the issues that the college faces. Some of it is built-in: it’s debt, it’s deferred maintenance, those kind of things that every college has to deal with it. And then the rest of it has to deal with enrollment and fundraising, so I would say that no, I did not have a complete picture of it…”


The official announcement describes a host of “transition” steps, including teaching some students at another campus, providing online learning for others, and transfer deals with other campuses, such as Purdue.

I’m not sure if the technology argument (“the rapid rate of technological development”) refers to competition from on-line providers, or from challenges the college sees (saw) itself having in maintaining technological infrastructure (including people).  I wonder which explanation most accurately describes the story.

That phrase about federal regulations (“increased and evolving federal regulations”) apparently points to college fears of losing their accreditation, partly for financial reasons.  There were also quality concerns, it seems:

concerns related to resources, planning and institutional effectiveness; quality, resources and support of teaching and learning; as well as evaluation and improvement of teaching and learning…

Much of this story fits the pattern we’ve seen across American higher education: fewer students enrolling in academia.  Few students wanting to study in a rural location or at a smaller institution.  Fewer students existing, period, in the midwest (and the northeast, and certain states in other regions).  It isn’t good for the optics of liberal arts institutions, nor for Catholic schools.

Is Saint Joseph’s an outlier, or a canary in the proverbial coal mine?

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