Fontbonne University Announces Closure After 15 Years of Enrollment Declines


Fontbonne University, a 100-year-old Roman Catholic institution in St. Louis, plans to close after the summer 2025 term due to financial challenges.

Fontbonne University Announces Closure After 15 Years of Enrollment Declines

(Photo : WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / LittleT889)

Financial Challenges and Closure Decision

Fontbonne University's decision to close represents a significant development in the landscape of higher education. The institution, with a rich history spanning over a century, faces a culmination of financial challenges that have rendered its current operational model unsustainable. According to university officials, years of declining enrollment figures and a dwindling endowment have prompted the difficult decision to cease operations.

The closure plan entails Fontbonne University refraining from admitting a new class for the fall term of 2024. Instead, the institution will prioritize the graduation of existing students before officially closing its doors after the conclusion of the summer term in 2025. As part of the closure process, Fontbonne's 16-acre campus will be sold to Washington University in St. Louis, a private nonprofit institution. While Washington University has confirmed the acquisition, specific plans regarding the future use of the property have yet to be disclosed.

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Challenges Facing Fontbonne and Higher Education Institutions

Fontbonne University's closure reflects broader challenges facing small private colleges across the nation. In recent years, numerous institutions, particularly Roman Catholic colleges, have grappled with enrollment declines and financial instability. Fontbonne's experience underscores the systemic issues confronting higher education, particularly institutions of a smaller scale.

A primary factor contributing to Fontbonne's closure is the sustained decline in enrollment. Over the past decade, the university's student population has experienced a significant decrease, dwindling from 2,075 students in fall 2012 to 944 in fall 2022, according to federal data. This decline, coupled with the impending demographic cliff—a projected decline in high school graduates—has intensified the financial strain on Fontbonne and similar institutions.

Nancy Blattner, the president of Fontbonne University, has acknowledged the collective efforts of faculty, staff, administration, and supporters in confronting the institution's challenges. However, she emphasized the insurmountable obstacles posed by more than 15 years of enrollment decline, exacerbated by the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic struggles affecting small, private institutions nationwide.

Support for Transitioning Students

Despite the adversity, Fontbonne University remains committed to supporting its current students during the transition period. To facilitate the completion of their courses, the institution has announced full-tuition scholarships for all undergraduate students during the summer terms of 2024 and 2025. Additionally, Fontbonne will assist students in transferring to other institutions by finalizing teach-out agreements and providing necessary support throughout the transition process.

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