Marygrove College to close in December; campus to offer early childhood, K-12 programs

The Liberal Arts building is the centerpiece of the Marygrove College campus in Detroit.  Elizabeth Burns, president of Marygrove College, announced the closure of the college in Detroit on Wednesday.

Detroit — Two years after it stopped offering undergraduate classes and embarked on an unprecedented effort to offer only master's degrees, Marygrove College will close at the end of the fall semester in December, the school announced Wednesday. 

"We've been working very hard to avoid this day," Elizabeth Burns, president of Marygrove College, said in an interview on campus. "It is a very sad day for our students, for our alums, for our faculty, for the sisters. The (Immaculate Heart of Mary) sisters brought Marygrove to Detroit in 1927. Their legacy of education will continue."

Despite the college's closing, the 53-acre campus will remain open as an education center. The transition will include an early childhood education center and a new K-12 school and a teacher-education training program with partners that include the Detroit Public Schools Community District, the University of Michigan, the Kresge Foundation and Starfish Family Services.  

“Marygrove College has been a leader in urban education since the college opened in Detroit more than 90 years ago,” said Marygrove Conservancy chairwoman Sister Jane Herb, who is also the president of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which founded and sponsors the college. “Knowing that the educational mission of the IHM will continue on this campus for generations to come makes us proud.”

The college is closing after 92 years due to a lack of enrollment, which led the school to drop all 35 of its undergraduate programs in 2017, displacing about 300 undergraduate students and 50 faculty and staff.

Marygrove rebranded, offering only seven graduate and professional development programs. Ultimately, though, even a smaller program wasn't viable.

'We didn't get the number of students needed to be a sustainable college," Burns said. "We had help from foundations, we started the Marygrove Conservancy. So we have been doing things in the past couple of years that would we had hoped would attract students and help. However, it really didn't ... At this point, the corporate board decided it was time." 

The private, liberal arts college in northwest Detroit has 305 master's students enrolled, mostly in education-related degree programs. Most are working and earning their degrees online.

Marygrove's legacy in the community has reverberated, so its graduates were devastated to hear of its looming demise.

"I am so sad about the whole thing," said Barbara Douglas, 57, a Troy resident who earned her bachelor's degree from Marygrove in 1991.

Most of Douglas's family also went to Marygrove: Her mother, Constance Bernardi, went there when it was an all-girls school, earning her bachelor's and master's degrees and eventually working there as assistant director of graduate admissions. Bernardi's family of eight grew up in the University District neighborhood, and four of the children went to Marygrove. Douglas and her sister got married in the chapel.

"Marygrove has been infused in us," said Douglas. "We lived the values that Marygrove instilled in us: (creating) social justice in your community, helping each other, don’t always thing of yourself, think of other people."

Marygrove's roots date to 1905, when it was based in Monroe and started by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. 

Elizabeth Burns, president of Marygrove College, announces the closure of the college in Detroit on Wednesday.  "It is a very sad day for our students, for our alums, for our faculty, for the sisters," she said.. "The sisters brought Marygrove to Detroit in 1927; their legacy of education will continue."

On Wednesday, the college and its stately buildings were quiet and sunshine peeked through the numerous trees. Only a handful of staff members were on campus, and nary a student. 

Marygrove will carry out a gradual closure, Burns said, finishing out the summer and fall semester with the hope of advising students so as many as possible can complete their degrees or certificates.

Marygrove has an agreement pending before the Higher Learning Commission to do a "teach out" at Oakland University. If approved, Marygrove College students who are within one year of graduating after the fall semester could complete their degrees at OU.

"We are committed to making sure current Marygrove graduate students have a solid understanding of the academic course transfer process, and a clear path to continuing their education and attaining degrees at OU," Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz and Provost James P. Lentini said in an email sent to campus.

"We are hopeful Marygrove graduate students studying in areas that include teacher education, human resource management and social justice will find a home at OU."

Even before Marygrove College closes, its campus will enter a new life starting in the fall, by way of a "cradle-to-career" educational partnership announced last year. This will include a modern early childhood education center, a new K-12 school and a teacher-education training program modeled after hospital residency programs.

The P-20 Partnership — one of the first in the nation, according to organizers — is backed with a $50 million commitment from the Kresge Foundation. The School @ Marygrove  is expected to open as planned with an inaugural class of 120 students.

“All of us believe that the P-20 partnership will revive the spirit of the Marygrove campus while creating multiple pipelines of talent for all DPSCD schools. Our partnership will one day be a national model and part of the story of how the school district was rebuilt to provide children with the education they deserve,” said DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

The Sacred Heart chapel on the campus of Marygrove College, in Detroit, January 30, 2018.

Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson agreed.

“This investment places education at the center of community revitalization efforts in northwest Detroit, while preserving the strong legacy of the college in lifting up the thousands of women and men who earned credentials there and went on to enrich our community,” he said in a statement.

“This new 21st century educational model promises to not only produce high achieving and community-minded students, but also to invigorate a renewed faith and interest in this community, which is integral to Detroit’s inclusive recovery.”