Fontbonne University Closure Marks Continuing Decline in Diverse Catholic Education

Fontbonne University Closure Marks Continuing Decline in Diverse Catholic Education | Future Education Magazine


Source- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

In a significant development for the landscape of Catholic higher education, Fontbonne University, a 100-year-old institution known for its diversity and inclusive ethos, has announced its closure. Situated in Clayton, Missouri, Fontbonne University will cease operations after the summer 2025 term, citing persistent challenges such as declining enrollments and financial constraints.

Fontbonne University, founded in 1923 as a women’s college by the Sisters of St. Joseph, has played a pivotal role in serving a diverse student population over the years. However, despite efforts from faculty, staff, and supporters, the university has struggled with dwindling enrollments for more than a decade, exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and broader financial challenges faced by small private institutions.

President Nancy Blattner, in a statement to faculty and staff, acknowledged the difficulty of the decision and attributed the closure to years of enrollment decline, financial struggles, and the impact of COVID-19. The university’s property will be sold to nearby Washington University in St. Louis, marking the end of an era for Fontbonne.

Fontbonne’s closure adds to a concerning trend in Catholic higher education, particularly among institutions serving diverse student populations. The university’s demographic makeup, with more than a quarter of its undergraduates identifying as Black, underscored its commitment to inclusivity. However, despite these efforts, Fontbonne’s share of Missouri’s college population has declined significantly since 2009.

Financial challenges have plagued Fontbonne University for years, leading to a series of budget cuts and retrenchment efforts. Despite these measures, the university was unable to reverse its fortunes, culminating in the board’s decision to cease operations.

Fontbonne University’s Closure Reverberates Across Communities

The closure of Fontbonne University has prompted reactions from both within and outside the academic community. Jonathan W. Solomon, a higher education scholar, noted that the closure was anticipated, while alumni like Chris Stritzel lamented the loss of a beloved institution and expressed concerns about the acquisition by Washington University.

Current students at Fontbonne will be able to complete their studies through summer 2025, as part of the purchase agreement with Washington University. Teach-out agreements with other institutions are also being finalized to facilitate the transition for affected students.

As Fontbonne University prepares to close its doors, its legacy of diversity and inclusive education will be remembered, underscoring the challenges facing small liberal arts colleges in an increasingly competitive higher education landscape.

The closure of Fontbonne University highlights broader challenges facing small liberal arts colleges across the country. With shifting demographics, financial pressures, and evolving educational preferences, many institutions are grappling with similar issues. Fontbonne’s closure serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of higher education institutions, particularly those with niche missions and smaller endowments.

For the St. Louis community, Fontbonne’s closure represents not just the loss of an educational institution but also a cultural and historical landmark. Over its century-long history, Fontbonne has made significant contributions to the local community, producing generations of scholars, leaders, and professionals.

Shaping the Future of Fontbonne’s Campus and Community

Washington University’s acquisition of Fontbonne’s property raises questions about the future use of the campus and its impact on the surrounding area. As one of the nation’s top-ranked universities, Washington University’s expansion could have far-reaching implications for the local education landscape.

As Fontbonne University prepares to wind down its operations, there is a sense of mourning among alumni, faculty, and staff. The university’s closure marks the end of an era, leaving behind cherished memories and a rich legacy of academic excellence and inclusivity.

Looking ahead, the closure of Fontbonne University serves as a cautionary tale for other institutions facing similar challenges. It underscores the importance of adaptability, strategic planning, and community support in navigating the complex terrain of higher education.

While the closure of Fontbonne University is undoubtedly a loss, it also presents an opportunity for reflection and renewal. As the St. Louis community mourns the passing of an institution, it also looks to the future with hope and determination, knowing that the spirit of Fontbonne will live on in the hearts and minds of all who were touched by its mission and values.

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