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Cabrini University to close permanently in 2024

The diverse Pennsylvania Catholic institution has faced long-term financial struggles and initiated multiple major budget cuts in the past two years.

(Cabrini University)

Cabrini University, a notably diverse Catholic institution in Radnor, Pennsylvania, has announced that it will close its doors for good at the end of the 2023-24 academic year, per a statement released on June 23.

The news comes roughly 8 months after major budget cuts were announced at the school due to declining enrollment and mounting financial concerns. At the time, interim Cabrini president Helen G. Drinan said the school was not facing closure—though talks of a possible merger began shortly thereafter. 

“We sought a strategic partner willing and able to honor our history, tradition, and legacy and to ensure our campus remains a vibrant center of catholic education,” the school said in its announcement on Friday.

The statement noted that the campus will be sold to Villanova University in nearby Philadelphia, with administrators having engaged in negotiations for several months.

Founded in 1957 by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the school was named after their foundress, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, and was originally a college for women. The school began admitting men in 1970 but has remained a majority-female institution.

Attracting a largely middle-class student body, Cabrini has also maintained a robust Black student population relative to other Catholic schools, including Villanova in majority-minority Philadelphia. According to federal data from 2021, roughly a fifth of students at Cabrini were Black—good for #22 among U.S. Catholic colleges and universities.

Amid growing financial struggles in recent years, Cabrini also faced various allegations of racism—a recurring issue in Philadelphia Catholic schools—including an anti-Black graffiti incident on campus in 2017 and a racial slur scandal the next year.

The school later instituted a number of new policies and reviews to address systemic racism on and around campus, including mandatory bias trainings for employees and students and communications with the local police department concerning racial profiling.

By 2021, however, the university—just three years out from changing its former name of Cabrini College—was cutting dozens of positions and some majors in an effort to address budget shortfalls. Six additional full-time faculty were laid off last December.

“Cabrini University, like so many colleges and universities, has faced significant financial challenges stemming from declining enrollment, the pandemic, and economic uncertainty,” Drinan said in a joint statement on Friday with Villanova president Fr Peter M. Donohue.

“Despite efforts to improve revenue streams, and changes to the leadership and academic ranks, Cabrini’s operating deficit remained insurmountable.”

While Drinan noted that the deal with Villanova is not yet finalized, the tentative terms include “individualized transfer plans” for current students to complete their degrees at another school, and for Villanova to offer employment to at least some Cabrini faculty and staff while preserving the school’s history.

“Villanova will preserve Cabrini University’s legacy, both in name and in the continuation of some of the institution’s most impactful work in education, nursing, service, immigration, and the advancement of women.”

In a letter to the Cabrini community, Drinan again touted the school’s legacy and noted some points of the planned transition in more detail—though with a note of caution due to ongoing talks.

“As President Donohue and I said earlier today, we know this announcement raises many questions. Many of those we simply cannot answer at this time as confidential discussions are still underway,” she said.

Drinan said further details will be shared in upcoming meetings and on the new Cabrini University Legacy website, whose homepage says the school will dedicate its last school year to celebrating Cabrini pride.

“While unique in our identities and histories, Cabrini and Villanova share a common faith and mission to offer a whole person, Catholic education to students and scholars, who strive for academic excellence, social justice, and servant leadership in the global community,” it reads.

“In this our final academic year, we plan to actively celebrate Cabrini University’s history, mission, ministry, and legacy and provide our students the same academically rigorous and culturally rich experience they expect and deserve.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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