Notre Dame College, which is facing mounting debt, is set to close its doors by the end of the spring 2024 semester.

Officials at the South Euclid campus made the announcement to faculty, staff and students Thursday afternoon.  

Notre Dame, founded by a group of Catholic sisters in 1922, is not alone in facing financial struggles. Lots of higher education institutions, especially small private colleges, are seeing already existing difficulties amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic and declining enrollments. At least 30 colleges across the country closed in the first 10 months of 2023, far higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to The Hechinger Report

In a news release, officials said the college’s board “worked tirelessly for years on multiple fronts to address long-standing issues.” That list included refinancing debt, launching a fundraising campaign around its centennial anniversary, and “strategically” using pandemic relief funding. 

“These heroic efforts were not enough to close the financial gap in time to satisfy debt obligations and allow the school to continue to operate independently,” officials wrote in the release.

Several sources, who did not want to be publicly identified, told Signal Cleveland there was a last-minute push over the past two weeks to raise additional funds for the college. 

Notre Dame enrolled roughly 1,400 total students as of fall 2022. More than half are Pell Grant recipients, meaning they get federal funding reserved for low-income undergraduates.

Notre Dame offers partnerships with nine local colleges for students’ next chapters

In-person academic instruction will now begin winding down. Notre Dame’s spring break begins Monday, and the last day of classes for the spring semester is May 2. 

Notre Dame established agreements with nine other local colleges — including Baldwin Wallace University, Cleveland State University, and John Carroll University —  to provide “outstanding” opportunities for students to continue their academic careers. 

The news release noted students must be in good academic standing and have completed at least 60 credits, typically two full academic years, to seamlessly transfer. Those who have earned fewer credits “may” have the same options, the release said.

The college will host an on-campus event Wednesday, March 13, to help students consider next steps. Officials said the college’s human resources department will offer support to faculty and staff members, too.

Thursday’s release didn’t include any details about the college’s athletics departments. About 70% of its students are student-athletes.

Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

Notre Dame, Cleveland State conversations

As Signal Cleveland first reported in January, leaders at Notre Dame met with their peers at Cleveland State University three times last fall. 

Cleveland State officials called those conversations opportunities “to explore the feasibility of CSU potentially absorbing Notre Dame College.” Notre Dame leaders said they discussed a “partnership.” 

Cleveland State President Laura Bloomberg confirmed the meetings at a faculty senate meeting last month. The college was thinking about working with Notre Dame as “something of a test case,” she said. 

Bloomberg said Notre Dame leaders provided Cleveland State and the team it is working with at the consulting firm Ernst & Young with “quite a lot of data.” 

An industry-wide “sea change” 

Later, Bloomberg spoke broadly about what she called an industry-wide “sea change” during her public interview for the University of Minnesota’s presidency on Monday, Feb. 26. 

“There will be an M&A [mergers and acquisitions] model in higher ed, the likes of which we haven’t seen, maybe ever, in this country,” she said. “I don’t take pleasure in that. But it’s just our reality.” 

Bloomberg went on to say that regional universities, including Cleveland State, will survive this time. But, she said, there will be “institutions in our ecosystem who likely may not.” 

“I want us to be prepared to think about when is the right time to suggest a merger or perhaps an acquisition,” she said. 

Those types of partnerships, though, can be a huge undertaking with lengthy timelines and lots of details and stakeholders to consider.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.