A recent report from Higher Ed Dive revealed that over 30 colleges and universities have been forced to close or merged since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shockingly, 18 of these institutions are Christian, spanning denominations such as Methodist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Church of Christ, and Independent Christian Church.
While these schools may have seemed stable at one point, they were already struggling before the pandemic hit. Issues such as declining enrollment, internal conflicts, and financial challenges had already taken their toll on these small institutions. In fact, some may have ultimately closed even if the pandemic had never occurred.
However, COVID-19 proved to be the final blow for many of these schools. With demographic shifts and ongoing crises exacerbating their already dire financial situations, the pandemic was the last straw that pushed them over the edge.
According to David Fincher, head of Central Christian College of the Bible, which absorbed St. Louis Christian College in 2022, “Small institutions are resilient or they wouldn’t still be in existence,” “At the end of the day, though, there’s only so much resiliency gets you when there’s a perfect storm.”
For students and faculty at these institutions, this news is devastating. These schools were more than just buildings and classrooms – they were communities full of hope and ambition. The loss of these institutions will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on those who were part of their community.
In 1980, MacMurray College, an institution affiliated with the Methodist Church located in Illinois, boasted an enrollment of 736 students. Over time, the college’s enrollment numbers dwindled. By the 2010s, MacMurray’s student body had shrunk to around 630 students, which left the school in a precarious financial position. In 2015, the college had 570 students, just enough to cover operating costs, but the following year, with only 552 students, the college faced a budget shortfall of $1.7 million, which signaled a growing financial crisis.
David Fitz, a former political science professor at MacMurray, who later joined the administration in the early 2000s, noted that the college had been moving from crisis to crisis without a clear long-term strategy, which was critical for its survival. While the school had been able to manage these crises in the past, eventually, it became too much, and the institution had no choice but to close its doors.
“You have to have a clear long-term strategy,” said Fitz. “I’m not sure the college ever did that well. We moved from crisis to crisis and managed well, until we couldn’t and then it had to close.”
As a last-ditch effort to save the school, the college’s leadership sought to revamp the curriculum, focusing more on career training, and even secured a deal with a developer to purchase the property and lease it back to the university. However, these efforts were not enough to save the school as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the crisis it caused was too overwhelming.
MacMurray’s story is one of many other Christian colleges and universities that have faced similar challenges in recent years. These institutions often struggle to compete with larger schools, which can offer more amenities and financial resources.
As a result, smaller colleges may have to get creative with their approach to curriculum and fundraising to stay afloat. Ultimately, for some, despite their best efforts, the challenges prove insurmountable, and the school is forced to close its doors.