Marygrove College to cease offering undergraduate degrees, citing low enrollment

Marygrove College, one of Detroit’s three Catholic institutions of higher learning along with the University of Detroit Mercy and Sacred Heart Major Seminary, announced Aug. 9 it will cease offering undergraduate degrees and focus exclusively on its master’s degree programs and professional development initiatives starting in January 2018. The college cited low enrollment figures and financial challenges as reasons for the decision.

DETROIT — Faced with dwindling enrollment and financial challenges in recent years, on Aug. 9, Marygrove College President Elizabeth Burns, MD, announced the school will cease its undergraduate programs following the Fall semester.

The stunning announcement just week before the start of the academic year comes after the college received a report for a consultation group which advised the college it did not have the resources to continue its undergraduate program at the current level of enrollment.

Dr. Elizabeth Burns, President of Marygrove College, announces to media the closing of the college’s undergraduate program, effective December 2017. (Dan Meloy | The Michigan Catholic)

“Today, Marygrove College is announcing we’ll discontinue our undergraduate program, effect the end of the Fall 2017 semester — the middle of December,” Dr. Burns, who indicated she will stay on as president, told media gathered in the Madame Cadillac Building on campus.

“We will maintain the graduate and professional development programs,” Dr. Burns continued. “At a meeting yesterday, the board of directors decided to focus on our Master’s of Education and Professional Development graduate programs. This allows us to maintain our commitment to education in the City of Detroit and continue to serve the needs of the community.”

In a press release, Marygrove reported the school reached peak enrollment in 2013 with more than 1,850 graduate and undergraduate students. In Fall 2016, total enrollment had fallen to 957.

On Wednesday, Dr. Burns said the college projected to have 925 students, but registration reports indicated the school would have far fewer than projects indicated, triggering the board of directors to make a decision concerning the college’s future.

“The board of directors made a business decision to continue to provide Master’s-level programs in professional development, because we know that they are sustainable and in demand. We have more than 50 years experience in graduate education.”

The decision to end Marygrove’s undergraduate programs will allow the college to remain financially viable and a staple in the north-end community, Burns said.

“Regrettably, Marygrove has experienced the same enrollment and financial issues as many liberal arts colleges across the country and the state,” Burns said. “Intensive marketing and recruitment efforts have failed to provide sufficient revenue from our undergraduate programs to continue operations as usual. A recent analysis found that Marygrove is not sustainable in its current business model. And undergraduate enrollment is projected to be lower than last fall.”

The college has notified students of the impending changes and is working to assist both current and incoming students in finding alternative undergraduate programs starting in the winter semester, including help with transferring credits and financial aid.

“Because of this decision is being made so close to the Fall Semester, we’ve decided to remain open for the incoming Freshman, returning students and transferring students who registered before the start of classes, Sept. 5,” Dr. Burns said. “We want these students to have an easier transition, and we’re here to help. In doing so, we realized it might be difficult or impossible for students to get into local colleges at the beginning of the Fall Semester.”

Burns acknowledged transforming Marygrove College into a graduate educational only institution will mean a dramatic reduction in faculty and staff, but said the IHM-sponsored school remains committed to the cause of education in Northwest Detroit.

“Given the downward trend in Marygrove enrollment, and the plight of other liberal arts colleges, the Marygrove Board of Trustees determined that transitioning the college to a graduate-only institution was the best course of action,” Dr. Burns said. “Marygrove is pleased that our students and our community will continue to benefit from the quality education the college has been delivering since it was founded as St. Mary’s College in Monroe in 1905 and brought to Detroit 90 years ago. Our commitment to help our students remains firm.”

Burns said more than half the faculty will lose their jobs at the end of the semester, with many being let go immediately, but all faculty are guaranteed to be paid through Oct. 15. Marygrove as 44 full-time and part-time faculty and 70 full-time and part-time staff.

“We’re sensitive to faculty and staff, knowing this is not easy for them,” Burns said. “I’ve contacted my counterparts at Madonna University University of Detroit Mercy, Wayne State, Concordia University and Siena Heights on their behalf, hoping they would consider bringing on our wonderful faculty and staff.”

The Marygrove website instructs undergraduate students to contact the admissions department to arrange for personalized academic and financial counseling.

Dr. Burns expressed a desire to assist students as much as possible in reaching out other colleges in the area to continue their education.

She also announced that Marygrove, a member of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, will still compete in men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball this Fall, but canceled all Winter and Spring athletic programs.

In spite of the dramatic shift in the college’s focus, retaining a strong base of graduate and professional development options will allow Marygrove to meet rising demand for such programs, said Kay Benesh, president of the college’s board of trustees.

The college plans to remain a cultural resource for the community and will proceed with a February performance of the Marygrove Theatre’s “I Will Speak For Myself,” Benesh said, “a play representing the voices of African American women throughout history,” as well as its Contemporary American Authors Lecture Series, now in its 30th year, which will feature Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead in April.

Originally known as St. Mary’s College, the institution moved to its current location on McNichols Road in 1927, when it became known as Marygrove College. Founded as a women’s only educational institution, Marygrove became a co-educational college in 1970.

The college also has been on the front lines of racial integration, accepting its first African-American student in 1938.

“We know of no other college in the country that has made this type of transformation, a transformation not unlike our historically bold moves to educate women when it wasn’t fashionable, to bring 68 African American students to Marygrove in 1968 with the 68 for ’68 initiative, to create one of the nation’s first Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) degrees, a distance-learning curriculum to help teachers to advance in their careers, and to commit to an urban leadership strategic vision,” Burns said.

Sr. Mary Jane Herb, IHM, president of Marygrove’s sponsors, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation, said, “The decision to reduce the academic program was a difficult one, but one that will enable Marygrove College to maintain a presence in Detroit. It is our sincere belief that the campus will continue the rich heritage of education, being a beacon of hope for students into the future.”

With the closing of Marygrove’s undergradaute program, the IHM Sisters still plan to have a continuing presence on campus, promoting education in the City of Detroit, said Sr. Pat McCluskey, IHM, Vice Chair of the Marygrove College Board of Directors.

“The IHMs comprise one-third of the board of directors, so we’ve been very involved in the analysis of what’s going on here,” Sr. McCluskey said. “We’ll continue to sponsor this college. We do still have faculty here.

“We’re limited, with only one IHM Sister currently in the graduate educational program. But in campus ministry, we have an IHM Sister on board. We have a presence here on campus, at Hartman Hall we have a community here. Marygrove has been an anchor institution in providing education to so many students. And we’re still committed to those values.

“We began as St. Mary’s College in Monroe in 1905, moved to Detroit and became Marygrove in 1927, when this was the hinterlands of Detroit. This is just the next evolution of the school.”