Magazine article The Christian Century

Small Religious College Closes and Many Others Struggle to Survive

Magazine article The Christian Century

Small Religious College Closes and Many Others Struggle to Survive

Article excerpt

Duncan Tiemeyer chose St. Gregory's University because he wanted a faith-based education that would teach him more than how to succeed in a career.

The 550-student Catholic liberal arts college in Oklahoma traces its roots to French monks who moved to Indian Territory in 1875 to educate Native American and settler children.

"Here, we are taught not only to focus on our five-year plan but also our 100year plan and our 500-year plan," said Tiemeyer, 22, a senior business and theology major from Houston. "Are we living our lives in a way that is getting us to the next life? Are we going to be able to go to heaven?"

However, the brand of education offered by St. Gregory's, where Benedictine monks still pray daily in a chapel beside a cemetery where their predecessors are buried, will come to an abrupt halt at the fall semester's end.

Michael A. Scaperlanda, St. Gregory's president, compared small Christian colleges to small businesses.

"In the pre-Wal-Mart world, mom-and-pop shops could survive and thrive," Scaperlanda said. "In the Wal-Mart world, you need to have a niche market and very sophisticated business practices, and I think that has been difficult for many small Christian universities, including St. Gregory's."

The financially strapped Roman Catholic institution 40 miles east of Oklahoma City is just the latest small religious college to close in an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace.

* Grace University, a Christian college in Omaha, Nebraska, will end operations in May because of financial and enrollment challenges.

* Marygrove College, a Catholic liberal arts institution in Detroit, will shut down its undergraduate programs in December.

* Catholic-affiliated Saint Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana, did not reopen this fall.

Roughly one-third of the small private colleges rated by Moody's Investors Services, an international financial research company, generated operating deficits in 2016, an increase from 20 percent in 2013, MarketWatch reported in June. A major reason is a record level of tuition discounts, "a practice that's financially riskier for small colleges that have fewer sources of revenue to rely on," wrote MarketWatch, which offered data on religious schools specifically.

St. Gregory's, Oklahoma's only Catholic university, had hoped a $12.5 million rural development loan from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation made possible by federal money disbursed to the tribe would keep it alive. To qualify for the loan, the school even de-annexed from Shawnee, a city of 31,000, to meet the requirement of being located in a rural area. …

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