Kentucky college to close

St Catharine College logoBad higher education news just keeps coming in the American state of Kentucky.  I’ve noted many examples recently, ranging from budget cuts to multiple queen sacrifices.  Now one Kentucky college has decided to give up the game completely.

“It is with great sadness that I announce today, after exploring all possible options, the Board of Trustees has determined the challenges facing St. Catharine College are insurmountable and we will be closing the College at the end of July,” [St. Catharine College Board of Trustees, chairman John] Turner said. 

What led to this action?  My readers will be thoroughly unsurprised to learn that a “decline in overall enrollment” played a role.  According to Wikipedia, numbers dropped sharply, “from 600 students to 475 for the fall semester.”

Additionally, a debt burden driven in part by “the building of new facilities including residence halls, a health-sciences building, and most recently a state-of-the-art library.”

The Chronicle of Higher Ed notices a trend: “St. Catharine joins Dowling College, in New York, and Burlington College, in Vermont, on a growing list of small liberal-arts colleges that have closed their doors recently for financial reasons.”

There are some unusual aspects to the St. Catharine case.  It has been engaged in a struggle with the United States Department of Education over financial aid.  Listen to board chair Turner on this, seeing the enrollment drop as

caused recently by the federal Department of Education’s admitted wrongful withholding of student aid on several key academic programs… [This] has proven to be too difficult to manage with the debt obligation the College has assumed in recent years.

As the Washington Post points out,

What’s striking about St. Catharine’s dispute with the Education Department is that small private colleges rarely face the level of financial scrutiny this school endured. Trade schools and other for-profit institutions make up nearly two-thirds of the colleges under the most restrictive form of monitoring.

Schools are monitored for a myriad of reasons, including turning in late financial statements, operating with a lot of debt or having accreditation problems. The oversight is not necessarily a sign that a school is in any immediate danger of losing federal funds or folding, but for St. Catharine it was the beginning of the end.

You can read the government’s response half-way down this article.

The human cost includes students, both current and alumni, along with these people: “SCC employed 118 full-time faculty and staff, as well as numerous part-time staff and adjunct instructors.”

(thanks to Lee Skallerup Bessette)

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5 Responses to Kentucky college to close

  1. My guess is that this is an entirely unintended consequence of well intentioned regulations. Just as laws designed to stop the flow of funds to terrorist organizations and drug cartels have snared otherwise law abiding farms and businesses, laws designed to stop the most egregious abuses of education funding have snared otherwise legitimate colleges.

    Meanwhile Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed this morning notes that a California diploma mill went undetected for years (

    It’s tough to find an appropriate balance, but I know our Financial Aid folks spend a *lot* of time and resources on compliance, because to get dinged by the DoE might cost the institution millions, and could, as this case highlights, be an institution breaker. I wonder if much of the perception of “institutional bloat” in higher education is due to the escalating cost of compliance.

    • Regulatory compliance certainly drives a lot of admin growth.

      I take your point about finding the right regulatory balance, but wonder if there wasn’t some political problem just under the surface.

  2. tellio says:

    You hint at the cost this has for a community. We have no way of measuring the generational cost to closing a college that was open enrollment and focused on offering itself mostly to first generation students (old and new) in a three county area. I find quite a lot missing from the phrase “appropriate balance” above. St. Catherine was legit and in no fucking way is equivalent to Northwestern Polytechnic University. They should not be anywhere near each other in a post except as a demonstration of diametric opposites. I am intrigued by the mention of institutional bloat due to compliance. I would like to see how much of what an institution’s cost are directly and indirectly attributable.

  3. The St. Catherine and Northwestern Polytechnic University cases were indeed intended as a demonstration of diametric opposites; one a legitimate college that claims (persuasively, from what I’ve read) that it was subject to inappropriate regulatory scrutiny that led to its demise, the other an institution that (again, from what I’ve read) was not meeting basic education standards and yet escaped similar scrutiny for several years.

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