St. Catharine, KY (June 1, 2016) – After numerous recent meetings of the St. Catharine College Board of Trustees, chairman John Turner announced at a campus-wide faculty and staff meeting on Wednesday that the College would be closing its doors.
“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,” Turner said.
He went on to say the decline in overall enrollment, caused recently by the federal Department of Education’s admitted wrongful withholding of student aid on several key academic programs, has proven to be too difficult to manage with the debt obligation the College has assumed in recent years.
The debt he referenced was due to the building of new facilities including residence halls, a health-sciences building, and most recently a state-of-the-art library.
President Cindy Gnadinger and the College’s Board of Trustees have worked tirelessly in attempting to satisfy the requirements of the DoE and to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in immediate operating funds through this past spring semester.
“Without the enrollment and with the DOE’s chokehold on our cashflow, the debt is simply not manageable,” Chairman Turner explained.
According to a newsletter from Gnadinger on April 18, “a detailed and lengthy mediation process… failed to resolve the profound negative impacts that prior DOE decisions have had on our institution.” Mediation failed after other financial aid submissions were rejected for varying reasons, and the DOE failed to agree to pay the Colleges damages for diminishing its overall enrollment and reputation.
The DOE’s sanctioning of the College has not only critically restricted operational cash flow, but has also irreparably damaged the College’s ability to attract students. Prior to the problems with the DOE, enrollment was approximately 600 full-time students. Current enrollment projections are significantly diminished to fewer than 475 students enrolled for the Fall 2016 semester – a drop that College officials exclusively attribute to the negative impact of the DOE’s ongoing refusal to allow financial aid in key academic programs.
In recent weeks, the College administrators and trustees have explored various options for moving ahead and even explored the idea of an alliance with several other institutions. St. Catharine College President, Dr. Cindy Gnadinger, has recently held meetings with other college leaders, but the idea of some type of merger has proven unsuccessful.
The decision came after a board meeting Tuesday night, where the Board voted to close.
College administrators state they have reached out to several other institutions to establish teach-out plans for the current students. College administrators remain committed to ensuring this difficult situation is not exacerbated by a difficult transfer situation for SCC’s students.
Articulation agreements are being put together to ensure students’ academic credits will transfer easily and tuition arrangements will be honored as closely to the tuition rates that St. Catharine students are accustomed to paying.
Chairman Turner expressed his gratitude to the employees of the College for working diligently through what has been an extremely challenging year.
Summer camps and classes will proceed as already scheduled, but no classes will begin in the Fall.
SCC employed 118 full-time faculty and staff employees, as well as numerous part-time staff and adjunct instructors.
Prior to the Board’s decision to close the school, every avenue was investigated to save SCC, according to College officials. One plan of action that the school did implement was to fight the DOE’s strict sanctions by filing a lawsuit in federal court in late February, claiming the DOE was unlawfully withholding student financial aid funds. The lawsuit was filed Feb. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, based in Louisville.
But SCC did not have the financial capacity or cash flow to stay afloat while the DOE’s rules changed nearly monthly. This resulted in the College needing $5million to move forward next year and position the school confidently into future.
Some local donors stepped up to help keep the College’s doors open while administration worked through issues with the DOE. However, these fundraising efforts were not enough and not in time.
With the length of time involved in financial aid sanctions, litigation, and other looming capital debt, SCC would not be able to sustain the College’s financial needs even for the coming Fall semester.
What started as a school in a “still house” in the early 1800s and grew to a four-year college in the heart of bourbon country will be shuttered before a new semester starts in the Fall – forever silencing the legacy of its pioneering, founding Dominican Sisters.
After educating thousands of students over the course of nearly 200 years, and after repeatedly addressing all the sanction issues of the DOE to no avail, the tiny private College’s financial crisis will close its doors for good.