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Marymount California University, a half-century-old Catholic school, to shut down

The board of trustees said it voted to close the university on Aug. 31, citing declining enrollment, rising costs of the pandemic and a lack of financial resources.

Marymount California University in Rancho Palos Verdes. Image courtesy of Google Maps

(RNS) — Marymount California University, a 54-year-old Catholic private institution in the coastal Los Angeles County city of Rancho Palos Verdes, will permanently close this summer, after years of financial struggle. The decision to close comes shortly after a merger with a religious liberal arts school in Florida fell through.

The board of trustees on Friday (April 22) said it voted to close the university on Aug. 31, citing declining enrollment, rising costs of the pandemic and a lack of financial resources “needed to support the institution’s operational expenses.”

“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,” said Brian Marcotte, the university’s president, in a statement.

“This decision was not made lightly. But we felt the most compassionate thing to do was to give everyone time to make plans. Our focus now will be to help our students, faculty and staff,” Marcotte added.


RELATED: Closing doors: Small religious colleges struggle for survival


Marcotte told Religion News Service that students were informed of the decision Friday afternoon. Marcotte, along with the vice president of student affairs, will hold a virtual open forum with students on Tuesday.

Marymount California has 500 full-time students and 140 full-time staff.

No new students will be admitted for the fall semester, and the school said it will work with the help of its regulators to transition students to other colleges and universities for the fall semester. A small number of employees will remain on staff “to manage the wind-down of the school,” according to the university statement.

The university was founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary in 1968 as Marymount Palos Verdes College, a two-year Catholic institution. The name changed in 2013 to Marymount California University as the school began offering four-year undergraduate degrees and graduate degree programs.

Marcotte said they have sought to foster a mission based on values, “that is strong on development of the whole person.” He said students of all faiths are represented in the school.

“I think the overall values that we operate under are significant for all religions that are here or those who have no religion at all,” Marcotte said.

Marymount California offers a range of bachelor’s degrees, from biology and criminal justice to digital communication media and psychology. It also fields teams in 16 sports, including soccer, baseball, beach volleyball and surfing. 

The school also boasts an ethnically diverse student population.

Nearly three-quarters of its students are people of color, with Latinos making up 46% of the overall population, the university said, citing preliminary 2021 fall enrollment data

Marymount California University in Rancho Palos Verdes. Image courtesy Google Maps

Marymount California University in Rancho Palos Verdes. Image courtesy of Google Maps

In a signing ceremony last October, Marymount California celebrated a merger, which has now fallen through, with St. Leo University, a Catholic liberal arts university in central Florida.

University officials had sealed the deal in July and hoped to complete the transaction by January 2023, according to the news site Inside Higher Ed. Those efforts, however, were stymied in December when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the accreditor for St. Leo, rejected the plan.

St. Leo, according to the accrediting agency, “did not provide an acceptable plan and supporting documentation to ensure that it has the capability to comply” with its standards. St. Leo said it would continue to seek approval. The merger, however, was called off earlier this month, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times. 

Marcotte said the merging process was complex because “we were crossing regional accreditation boundaries.” 

He said the collapse of the merger “was a contributing factor” to the school’s closure.

“I don’t want to underplay it, nor do I really want to overplay it,” Marcotte said. 

Marymount California is not the only small religious private college to close in recent years. 

Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, which was overseen by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, shut down in 2020 amid financial problems and issues over the school’s support for LGBTQ students. 

Grace University, a Christian college in Omaha, Nebraska, ceased operations in 2018, doomed by financial and enrollment challenges. 

The financially strapped St. Gregory’s Roman Catholic university in Oklahoma permanently closed in 2017.

To Marcotte, it’s unfortunate seeing small independent universities like Marymount California struggling to stay open. Marcotte said these smaller schools offer a personal touch in the relationship between students and faculties. “We have very few classes that are greater than about 15,” he said.

“When I talk to our students … they all feel that it is a very special environment for them to have this learning situation with their professors. I just think that’s part of the smaller, private tuition, mentality, and environment,” Marcotte said.

“I would hate to see it diminished too much,” he added. “I’m hoping that others don’t have to go through the same process that we are, but I know the pressures are there.”