Alexis Boyer didn’t expect to be starting over again. 

In February 2023, she committed to playing her first year of collegiate soccer at Quincy University in Illinois. But that team wasn’t a good fit that fall. So, she said, she transferred in January to Notre Dame College, even further from her home in Oregon. 

It was all to play the game she loved. 

Within her first week in South Euclid, Boyer heard the rumors that the more than 100-year-old Catholic college was in financial trouble. Rumblings were rampant across the 48-acre campus that the school might actually close.

When Notre Dame announced it will close in May, Boyer said she felt shocked, even betrayed. The school and coach just recruited her. There was no sign or warning, she said, that this chapter could be pulled out from under her.

“This is my life,” she said. “This is my future. I’m paying money to go here. I had to pay money to move here.” 

But there’s not much time to unpack or process those, or any, feelings. She and the roughly 1,300 undergraduates at Notre Dame have to look forward. Again. 

“It’s crazy to think a question I have [for prospective colleges] is, ‘Are you financially stable?’” she said. “I never thought this could happen.” 

There’s another big question Boyer, and all Notre Dame students, are facing right now, too: What happens when your college closes? 

Alexis Boyer, a freshman at Notre Dame College, poses for a photo.
Alexis Boyer, a freshman at Notre Dame College, poses for a photo. Credit: Amy Morona / Signal Cleveland

College fair at Notre Dame offers choices

On a recent Wednesday in March, Boyer was one of about 500 Notre Dame students parading through an on-campus gym. They were there for a fair Notre Dame officials arranged to help students connect and learn about other colleges and their offerings. 

For the day, admissions staffers left their home colleges to come to this rare event and pitch why their college and their programs could be these students’ next best fit. 

The list of universities – including Cleveland State, Baldwin Wallace, and Ohio Dominion – seemed foreign to Boyer. She grew up near Portland. About 40% of Notre Dame’s students come from outside Ohio.   

“I’ve never even heard of these schools,” she said. “I don’t know where they are. I don’t know what they offer. I don’t know what value they have to me, like, why would I want to go there?” 

College shutdowns becoming more common  

Each of the schools represented that day forged agreements with Notre Dame that would allow most students to more seamlessly transfer all of their credits and pay comparable tuition rates. 

Most in attendance were small private colleges. Both locally and nationally, these are the kinds of places facing their own financial and enrollment challenges.

In fact, those are some of the reasons Notre Dame officials offered up to explain the closure. 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.  

It’s all shaping how Boyer and other students are approaching their next steps. Speculation and rumors are now fueling skepticism.

“People are saying, ‘Oh, well, that one’s about to close too, so don’t go there,” she said. “I guess this is apparently a common thing, I don’t know.”

“Coaches are more interested in seeing your film than shaking your hand”

Boyer is one of the 70% of Notre Dame’s population who are student-athletes. The soccer player – midfielder and outside back, to be specific – wants to keep it that way.  

She’d prefer to stay at an NCAA Division II school. Those are the places that can offer athletic scholarships in addition to academic ones. She’s a communications major. That major is offered lots of places, so she said she’s not worried about not finding her academic program at another school. 

If she has to drop down to a lower division, she said she’d rather find a school closer to her West Coast home, back near her family, including her two dogs and cat. 

Notre Dame’s fair attracted a swarm of admissions representatives but not many coaches. That frustrated Boyer. After all, she explained, “coaches are more interested in seeing your film than shaking your hand.”

“That’s what they need to see first, and I can’t give that to them here,” she said. “They’re not here.” 

A balloon that says "go falcons" in the Notre Dame College gym.
Credit: Amy Morona / Signal Cleveland

“It is so up in the air”

As Boyer figured out what tables to stop by, a group of Notre Dame basketball players – Kennadi Harris, Nadia Jackson and Lilee Carlson – stopped to catch their collective breaths. 

They all agreed that the scene, and talking to the college representatives, was overwhelming. 

“Sometimes, I just want to walk away, because I don’t really know what to say,” Harris said.

In the end, Boyer talked to four colleges. Only one of them really stood out to her, she said, mainly because she knows a player on the school’s  D-II soccer team.

All in all, she said she didn’t feel she gained a lot by going to the fair.  

“I definitely feel like I don’t have control at all of my future right now,” she said. “It is so up in the air.”

For now, though, at least the day’s plans are set. She’s off to eat lunch in the dining hall before emailing more soccer coaches. Maybe one of them will help her find her next home.

Things seemed to be winding down by around 3 p.m. That’s when a group of three students walked out of the fair and into a beautiful, sunny-and-70-degree day, the kind that feels like a treat in Northeast Ohio.

The trio posted up at a fence. There, they watched from a distance as Notre Dame’s softball team took Normandy Field. 

It was time for the first home game of the college’s last season. 

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