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Fontbonne University announces it will close in 2025

Private, liberal arts school founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet declared financial exigency

Fontbonne University, a private, Catholic liberal arts school founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has announced the 101-year-old institution will close in 2025.

The university announced on March 11 that its board of trustees voted to declare financial exigency, meaning there is an imminent financial crisis, and to cease operations after the summer 2025 term, according to a statement.

After years of declining enrollments and a shrinking endowment, Fontbonne, which celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2023, determined its long-term financial position was unsustainable. The university said it will not admit a fall 2024 class.

Washington University in St. Louis has entered into a purchase agreement with Fontbonne to acquire the 16-acre Clayton campus in the coming months. The university will lease the property back to Fontbonne for its last year of operation.

“We are so grateful to Washington University for this partnership, which will allow Fontbonne to continue to teach classes through summer 2025,” Fontbonne president Nancy Blattner said in the statement.

The arrangement will enable some current students to complete their degrees and graduate, while also extending employment for staff and faculty. To assist students in completing their coursework on campus, Fontbonne also will tap into a $9 million endowment to provide scholarships to all undergraduate students for the summer 2024 and summer 2025 sessions to cover the cost of tuition. Multiple graduation ceremonies will be held in 2024 and 2025 to celebrate student accomplishments.

Fontbonne currently has 874 students, down from a peak of about 3,000 students 15 years ago. There are 650 undergraduate and 224 graduate students. Additionally, there are 59 full-time faculty and 86 full-time staff and about 100 adjunct faculty. Fontbonne has graduated more than 20,000 students in its history.

“Each one is a living legacy of our founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet,” Blattner said in the statement. “We are proud of our alumni and the excellent value-laden education that students have received from our outstanding faculty and supportive staff.”

Blattner addressed the faculty and staff before the closure announcement, noting that despite its best efforts, the university has faced several challenges, including more than 15 years of enrollment decline, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other financial struggles similarly impacting small, private institutions across the nation.

She also met with students the morning of March 11 to deliver the news and pledge the university’s support to help each student graduate from Fontbonne or transfer to another institution to complete their college education. Current students will be provided with information about and assistance with completing their degrees at another university based on “teach-out” agreements that are being developed.

Originally founded to educate women and named after Mother St. John Fontbonne, who sent the first Sisters of St. Joseph to the United States from France, Fontbonne’s first classes were held in 1923 at the sisters’ Carondelet motherhouse in south St. Louis.

Since then, “Fontbonne has grown to educate people from diverse backgrounds here in the St. Louis region and beyond,” the sisters said in a statement on the closure. “The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet know that the impacts of Fontbonne on the greater St. Louis area will continue to live on through each graduate, staff and faculty member and how each of them continues to live out the CSJ charism to serve the dear neighbor without distinction.”

Blattner said in her 46 years of higher education, she didn’t expect she would have to close a university. “The very best joy of those years if the fact that I engaged with students, because I love them,” she said. “Our students are truly at the heart of what we want to do here.”

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