Marygrove College halting undergrad programs

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Throughout the century that Marygrove College has operated in southeast Michigan, it has made many bold moves.

From educating only women when few colleges did so in the early 1900s, to inviting 68 African-American women in the wake of Detroit’s 1967 civil disturbance, to creating one of the nation’s first master of arts in teaching degrees, the small Catholic institution has prided itself on its trailblazing history.

On Wednesday, the private, liberal arts college in northwest Detroit announced another move to keep it viable in the face of a steep enrollment drop: It will drop 35 undergraduate programs in January and offer only seven graduate and professional development programs.

No other college in the country has made this type of transformation to sustain itself, said Marygrove President Elizabeth Burns, a transition that she called “not unlike our historically bold moves.”

But the move comes as a shock to everyone in the Marygrove community, Burns added, because it will displace about 300 undergraduate students, and about 50 faculty and staff will lose their jobs.

The college’s fall sports teams — men and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball — will continue through autumn. But the basketball and baseball programs will not. Meanwhile, Marygrove’s community programs, such as the Contemporary American Authors Series and Institute for Music and Dance, will continue.

“It’s sad,” said Burns, an alumna, during a press conference on the college’s campus. “But it allows us to continue serving this community’s needs. ... The board is exploring how to continue its rich history of education on our campus and bring new life on campus in partnership with others.

“I am convinced that given the plight of other small liberal arts colleges across the country,” Burns continued, “we are fortunate to stay open to service our graduate students and the community.”

After the press conference, Burns said there are some plans that may emerge in the fall, but she could not share details.

The news was disappointing for former Marygrove student Taylor Jones, who was on campus Wednesday planning to re-enroll after a two-year hiatus.

She attended Marygrove for three years as a dance major but left when she couldn’t pay off a big bill. Then she found out she will not be able to complete her degree at Marygrove, despite having just one year left.

“It’s not good news at all,” said Jones, 27, of Detroit. “I really wanted to finish my last year. It sucks for a lot of teachers here, who are going to be laid off.”

This is not the first time a Detroit higher learning institution has gone through a drastic change.

In 1990, the University of Detroit, founded in 1877 by the Jesuits, consolidated with Mercy College of Detroit, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1941. In 1995, the Detroit College of Law affiliated with Michigan State University.

An anchor in northwest Detroit, Marygrove College was founded in Monroe by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1905, and moved in 1927 to a wooded, 53-acre parcel on McNichols. It was a women’s college until 1971.

Over the years, the school became well-known for educating teachers.

About half of the students who attend the college are Detroit residents, while the remaining hail from the region, along with a few from out-state and outside the country.

Enrollment peaked in 2013 with more than 1,850 graduate and undergraduate students. Tuition costs $21,500 annually for undergraduates and $13,230 annually for graduate students.

But a recent analysis found that Marygrove’s business model is not sustainable, and undergraduate enrollment is projected to be lower than last fall, when it had dropped to 966.

The school is funded primarily by grants, donations and tuition.

“Regrettably, Marygrove has experienced the same enrollment and financial issues as many liberal arts colleges across the country and the state,” Burns said. “Vigorous marketing and recruitment efforts have failed to provide sufficient revenue from our undergraduate programs to continue operations as usual.”

Marygrove will continue its legacy of educating teachers by offering seven master’s programs, primarily in education, covering areas such as leadership, technology and the art of teaching. But it also will offer master’s programs in areas such as social justice and human resource management.

“The Board of Trustees voted to continue with strong graduate studies and professional development because grad studies are sustainable and in demand,” said Kay Benesh, president of the Marygrove Board of Trustees. “It was also critical for Marygrove to remain the mainstay of this northwest Detroit community and an active partner with our neighbors in growing this community.”

Incoming and returning students have been notified by the college, which will help them to identify alternative schools. Faculty and staff also are being assisted, college officials 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,” said Sister Mary Jane Herb, IHM, president of Marygrove’s sponsor, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary congregation.

“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.”

Besides University of Detroit-Mercy and Madonna University in Livonia, Marygrove is one of three Catholic colleges in Metro Detroit.