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A photo of a Fontbonne University sign.

Fontbonne University, founded more than 100 years ago, will close in 2025.

Facebook/Fontbonne University

Squeezed by financial pressures, Fontbonne University will close next year.

The private Roman Catholic university in Missouri announced the news on Monday after the Board of Trustees voted to end operations due to Fontbonne’s deteriorating financial condition.

“After many years of declining enrollments and a shrinking endowment, the financial position of the university is no longer able to be sustained for the long term,” President Nancy Blattner said in a statement, noting that Fontbonne will not enroll a fall 2024 class and will shut down in 2025.

Financial Pressures

Founded in 1923, Fontbonne University just passed its 100th birthday. But the last few years, as Blattner noted, have been marked by enrollment declines and serious financial issues.

In fall 2023, Fontbonne enrolled 874 students, according to a spokesperson. That number was down more than 50 percent from fall 2013, when nearly 2,000 students were enrolled, according to the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

As enrollment slipped, Fontbonne’s financial challenges mounted. A review of publicly available documents shows that the university has struggled to generate revenue for much of the last decade, frequently operating at a deficit.

Officials made various efforts to offset some of those losses, including laying off 27 employees in 2018—roughly 10 percent of the university’s workforce at the time. Last fall, Fontbonne announced it would cut 21 academic programs and another 19 faculty jobs. The move, announced in the face of a $5.2 million budget deficit, was expected to save the university $2 million.

Fontbonne’s endowment was valued at $12.6 million in fiscal year 2022—a far cry from the median endowment of $209 million that year, based on 688 participants in a National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund study.

Prior to the closure, Fontbonne sought a partner to help keep it operational, according to a frequently asked questions page about the decision posted on the website.

“The university administration has been working to find a path forward for Fontbonne either as an independent university or as a partner with another institution for more than a year,” officials wrote. “Conversations with potential partners were occurring as recently as late last month. When it became clear that there was no path forward, the Board of Trustees voted to close the university.”

Nearby Washington University will purchase Fontbonne’s 16-acre campus, the FAQ page noted.

Sector Challenges

Fontbonne is not the only private college that has struggled to survive in the Show-Me State.

In October 2023, Columbia College, which is headquartered in Missouri, announced plans to cut 122 jobs and close 17 of its 45 locations across the U.S. because of a budget shortfall. Officials blamed enrollment challenges prompted by the declining number of high school graduates, as well as an increasingly competitive online environment in recent years.

Last year Cox College in Springfield entered an unusual arrangement, announcing plans to admit students through spring 2025 and then shut down when those programs conclude. At that time, Cox will transfer certain programs to Missouri State University and Ozarks Technical Community College. That transition is part of the effort to launch the Alliance for Healthcare Education, a nonprofit corporation expected to open by fall 2025 and offer instruction through a local hospital system.

Webster University, which is headquartered in Missouri but has numerous campuses across the world, has also dealt with recent financial issues, including a lawsuit alleging that it failed to pay rent on its downtown St. Louis campus. Facing a financial deficit, Webster University recently received approval to lift restrictions on endowment funds to meet liquidity obligations for a loan.

Had the lender demanded payment because of the lack of available assets required by the agreement, the university would have “struggled to meet its financial obligations,” an attorney for Webster said in court documents, apparently making a veiled reference to a possible closure.

Avila University, another Catholic institution in Missouri, received similar approval in fall 2023 to lift restrictions on its endowment to fund financial aid packages. Officials argued that without access to those funds, Avila would have been unable to provide institutional aid, prompting a judge to lift restrictions on $6.4 million dollars.

Nor is Fontbonne the only Catholic college to face closure in recent years.

In 2023, four Catholic institutions announced plans to close: Cabrini University, Cardinal Stritch University, Magdalen College, and Presentation College. Earlier this month, Notre Dame College in Ohio announced it would close. All cited declining enrollment and financial pressures.

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