On Wednesday, St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, OK announced plans to suspend operations at the end of the 2017 fall semester. According to the university’s website, the school was denied a loan application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, thus compromising its ability to maintain the university.
As of 2017, U.S. News listed a total of 702 students currently enrolled at St. Gregory’s—a small, private, Roman Catholic, liberal arts university. According to Chairman of the Board Fr. Don Wolf, their “main concern is for students, staff and faculty who will be profoundly impacted by this decision.” The university plans to host transfer fairs and job fairs in the upcoming days to aid students during the time of change.
According to Murray Evans, Oklahoma Christian University’s associate athletic director for media relations, St. Gregory’s competed against Oklahoma Christian in the 1950s and 1960s, when both schools were junior-college level. He said the two schools competed in the same conference again in 1997-98 and 2011-12 after becoming four-year schools, but parted ways when Oklahoma Christian applied for the NCAA Division. Evans said now the schools’ athletic interactions are infrequent and in few sports.
“We did pick up one swimmer, Kaelyn Carter, this past summer after St. Gregory’s dropped its swimming programs, and she currently swims for OC,” Evans said. “It would certainly be possible that SGU’s student-athletes might look elsewhere, including here, for playing opportunities, but it’s much too early to know anything for sure.”
Evans said he believes it is sad when a university or college is forced to suspend operations due to a lack of money. He said this is true for St. Gregory’s in particular, as it has a long-standing history dating back to before Oklahoma was established as a state.
“Personally, I have friends at SGU and I am sad for them, as they now have to look for new jobs and deal with the fallout of this situation,” Evans said. “SGU is the first private university in Oklahoma to have to close since Phillips University in Enid in the late 1990s. Operating a private, faith-based university is a yearly challenge from a financial standpoint.”
In 2015, Inside Higher Ed predicted closure rates of small colleges and universities to triple by 2017. In addition, the organization projected mergers of universities to double. According to their website, this means up to 15 institutions could suspend operations by 2017, which is up from the average of five annual closings.
On the other hand, Business Insider compiled data from the National Center for Education Statistics, which showed very little, to no trend in school closings between the years 1990 and 2014. While the data does not reveal significant trends from year to year, the website explains closures may increase in the coming years, if enrollment and cost does not change in the universities’ favor.
In February 2017, USA Today College said it can be difficult for small colleges to cater to all types of students as interests and education preferences change. According to the article, it is crucial for these universities to adapt to changing times, which could mean offering a smaller number of academic opportunities really well for a smaller number of students.
Oklahoma Christian’s Vice President of Academic Affairs Scott LaMascus said he has had the opportunity to travel across the U.S. and visit campuses struggling to keep up with the progress of the Higher Learning Innovation. He said it can be difficult to adapt university offerings fast enough to provide the opportunities students demand.
“Even much larger institutions struggle to find ways to offer online courses, degrees and programs in ways that still give students the experiential learning they need, along with community support, laboratories and other faculty-student mentoring that makes the undergraduate or graduate degree more than just a lot of mouse clicks,” LaMascus said.
According to LaMascus, to prevent Oklahoma Christian from falling behind, the university implemented new hybrid and online graduate degree programs. He said these programs include MBA, theology, computer science and engineering management.
“We are working to understand the challenges of the moment and build programs that stand the test of quality our alumni and community expect from OC,” LaMascus said.
LaMascus said following the announcement from St. Gregory’s, the registrar and other faculty leaders at Oklahoma Christian received questions from displaced students and faculty, who are looking for new education options.
“We’re ready to help serve these students whether it’s a teach-out process for students nearing graduation, transfer access for younger students or opportunities for scholar-athletes,” LaMascus said. “I know many of my colleagues have already been contacted by their counterparts at St. Gregory’s and we’re listening carefully to how we can be of help. Let’s pray for St. Gregory’s faculty, students and community. May God bless them all.”