Marymount California University (MCU), a Rancho Palos Verdes-based private Catholic University, announced during the weekend that it will be closing permanently at the end of August.
In a press release, University officials noted that declining enrollment, rising costs, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a recent failed merger with Florida-based Saint Leo University all led to the difficult decision.
“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 MCU president Brian Marcotte. “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.”
Marymount California University began in 1968 following a split from Marymount College in Los Angeles, an institution known today as Loyola Marymount University. Originally known as Marymount Palos Verdes College, the college changed its name in 1986 to Marymount College, Palos Verdes. By the early 2010’s, the college expanded quickly, opening up new campuses in San Pedro and Lucerne and shifting from being solely a two-year degree college to one offering 4-year undergraduate bachelors degrees. The transformation on campus was noted by another name change, this time to Marymount California University.
However, despite the expansion, problems began in the mid to late 2010s. Enrollment started plunging, with the University going through several rapid changes in leadership, including a 2018 change of leadership that occurred with former MCU president Lucas Lamadrid accused of “exorbitant” spending, inappropriate behavior, and discriminatory actions. MCU went from 1,179 students in the 2014-2015 year to just 622 in 2019-2020. The COVID-19 pandemic added to the University’s woes, leading to MCU looking for a possible merger.
In July 2021, MCU and Saint Leo University announced that they would merge, with a completion date being set for January 2023. Plans were put into place for Saint Leo to buy MCU, take on their debt, and change the name of MCU once again to a Saint Leo variant. A more online focus was also discussed.
“We think that this is a potential model for the future, that we would pick up a number of partners this way,” said Saint Leo president Jeffrey Senese in July. “We’ve strategically done some market studies across the country and are looking at markets where we don’t have presence and where we think our brand and our kind of approach makes sense.”
A failed merger
Plans seemed to be moving forward until December when Saint Leo learned that the merger was denied accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges due to financial issues. While Saint Leo initially said that they would try again, persistent issues led to Saint Leo announcing last week that the merger was now off. With no merging partner and the situation still bad at MCU, University officials finally decided to permanently close.
Classes are to continue until the end of the summer term, with MCU to work with students in transitioning to other universities for the fall. 140 full-time staff and other part-time staff will be let go as a result, with an untold economic impact on the area. Some noted on Monday that the closure will also have a major political impact this year as well.
“The loss of a college is devastating and can have a lot of effects,” said Damian Rivera, a higher education policy advisor, to the Globe on Monday. “Besides causing a lot of job loss, economic loss, and the loss of students from an area, it is also a loss of prestige. For a city or town, the college is a major pillar. It doesn’t matter if it is public or private.”
“And with it being an election year, there are going to be a lot of questions surrounding this. A lot of area lawmakers will have this used against them. Now, it’s not the shuttering of a public university, but if the person in power says something like ‘we’re doing better’ or ‘our city is as strong as ever’ or something like that, the MCU closure is an immediate and devastating rebuttal. You might see this pop up in the primaries, but if higher education is up as a question, even during, say, a Governors debate, then you can really see how such a devastating event can be used there.”
As of Monday, MCU still plans to close in August with no other possible merging college making overtures.
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