Marymount California University to close permanently following merger attempt

Dive Brief:

  • Marymount California University will close permanently at the end of August, it said last week in an announcement coming just days after a merger with fellow Catholic institution Saint Leo University collapsed.
  • Officials at Marymount California said years of declining enrollment coupled with rising operating costs and pandemic-induced stresses spurred the institution’s demise. 
  • The university said in a statement it will help students transition to other institutions for the fall but did not specify how it will do so. A spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Dive Insight:

Marymount California, near Los Angeles, tried to survive by laying its merger plan with Saint Leo, based in Florida. 

The deal had been in the works for months before the two institutions announced it in July. However, it fell through after Saint Leo’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC, declined to sign off on the arrangement in December.

SACSCOC said then that Saint Leo had not offered a sufficient plan to demonstrate the merger would meet the accreditor’s standard requiring responsible budgeting. 

Marymount California and Saint Leo said last week that the accreditor’s refusal delivered a fatal blow to the deal and that it would be called off

Shortly after that announcement, Marymount California President Brian Marcotte said the university was hopeful about next steps.

But like other small, nonprofit colleges, Marymount California saw the pandemic crush its finances. Experts had predicted this contingent of institutions would be the most vulnerable amid the crisis and among those most likely to close. 

The university’s governing board debated options that would allow it to remain operational “but ultimately deemed these alternatives and their associated timeframes unworkable,” Marymount California said in a Friday statement.

“This is an extremely sad day for Marymount and for the legacy and traditions lost, both for our campus community and the local Palos Verdes area we have called home for more than 50 years,” Marcotte said in the statement. “This decision was not made lightly. But we felt the most compassionate thing to do was to give everyone time to make plans.”

Now, the university will try to link faculty and staff to “new opportunities,” it said. It employs 140 full-time staff and enrolls 500 full-time students, the university said. 

Marymount California was founded in 1968 as a two-year Catholic junior college and changed to its current name in 2013 as it expanded its campuses and its bachelor’s and graduate degree offerings.

However, its finances have long been turbulent. It was operating with a $3.1 million deficit in 2020, according to its most recent available federal tax document.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission in March 2016 renewed the university’s accreditation for six years. But it expressed “serious concerns” and said the institution should lay the groundwork for a new president to address outstanding problems, most pressingly a financial deficit. 

Next month, Lucas Lamadrid became the university’s next president. He lasted less than two years following accusations he spent university money exorbitantly and made racist, homophobic and sexist remarks. Marcotte took over the presidency in February 2018.

The university also abruptly shut down a campus it operated in northern California in 2017.

Marymount California’s closure is at least the second among small private colleges to be announced in recent weeks. Lincoln College, a predominantly Black institution in Illinois, recently said the pandemic and a cyberattack that muddied its enrollment projections will force it to shutter in May.

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