Education

Fontbonne University in Missouri is set to close its doors due to a combination of budgetary issues and a decline in student enrollment

The president of a century-old university located in suburban St. Louis announced on Monday that the institution will cease operations next year due to decreasing enrollment and ongoing financial difficulties.

Established in 1923 in Clayton by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Fontbonne University was initially founded as a center for the education of young Catholic women. However, recent enrollment figures indicate a significant decline. The fall semester saw 874 students enrolled, with 650 being undergraduates. A stark contrast to a decade ago when Fontbonne boasted approximately 2,000 students, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Nancy Blattner, the university’s president, explained in a statement that Fontbonne will no longer accept freshmen for the fall 2024 semester but will continue to operate classes until the summer of 2025. Efforts will be made to assist faculty and staff in securing alternative employment opportunities.

Blattner highlighted the university’s financial challenges, citing years of dwindling enrollments and a diminishing endowment as unsustainable for the institution’s future viability.

Fontbonne’s situation mirrors a broader trend affecting numerous universities nationwide. Both public and private institutions have been forced to implement cost-saving measures, including layoffs, program cuts, and even campus closures. Factors contributing to these budgetary constraints include declining enrollment, the conclusion of federal pandemic relief funding, and other economic pressures.

For example, the University of Arizona recently disclosed a $240 million budget shortfall and introduced a recovery plan to address the deficit. Similarly, several universities within the Big Ten Conference, such as Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Rutgers, announced substantial budget deficits last year. Additionally, Bradley University, a private institution in Illinois, grappled with a $13 million shortfall, amounting to 10% of its operational budget.

Despite concerted efforts by Fontbonne’s leadership to reverse the institution’s fortunes through cost-cutting initiatives, the creation of new academic programs, and the introduction of athletic teams, the university has been unable to overcome its financial challenges.

Situated adjacent to Washington University in St. Louis, Fontbonne’s 16-acre campus will undergo a change in ownership, with Washington University announcing its intention to purchase the property. However, definitive plans for the site have yet to be determined.

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