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The Path to Sustainability and Preservation

Posted by Ryan O'Rourke

Feb 15, 2018 4:17:11 PM

February 15, 2018
Media Contact:
Renée Ahee
(313) 927-1438 or (586) 484-2390

The Path to Sustainability and Preservation

Detroit, Michigan  Over the last two years, Marygrove College has been dealing with extraordinary financial and enrollment issues that required the Board of Trustees to take drastic measures to remain a viable educational institution in the city of Detroit. This briefing paper chronicles the path we have taken to sustain the college and preserve the legacy of our sponsors, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Marygrove College had been experiencing a steady yet dramatic decline in enrollment over the last several years, not unlike other liberal arts colleges across the country, despite vigorous recruitment and marketing efforts. This left the college in an untenable financial position.

The leadership of the college, the Board of Trustees and the leadership council of our sponsors, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, worked intensely for two years to find solutions that would put the college back on its feet.

Marygrove President Dr. Elizabeth Burns said, “As the financial picture worsened for Marygrove, we sought the support of foundations and other grantors and donors. We also professionalized our enrollment management operation and instituted an aggressive recruitment and retention program. We conducted aggressive traditional, digital and social media marketing campaigns. None of these strategies worked to bring undergraduates to Marygrove.”

Small liberal arts colleges are facing dwindling enrollment due to the decrease in the demographic we all have historically served. At the same time, we’ve seen an upward trend toward professional education.

Marygrove can accommodate 1,300 on-campus students and an unlimited number of online students.

Enrollment in 2013 was 1,862 graduate and undergraduate students while Fall 2016 enrollment was 966. Total Fall 2017 enrollment was projected at 925. Beyond Fall 2017, the enrollment picture did not appear to improve.

“As announced on August 9, 2017, we discontinued our undergraduate programs effective at the end of the Fall 2017 semester, which was December 16th, and we continued on January 2nd as a graduate-only college,” said Dr. Burns.

That critical Board vote allowed Marygrove to maintain its commitment and legacy of education in the city of Detroit and to continue serving the community’s needs after 90 years in its location.

This business decision to remain open as a grad-only college was based on the sustainability and demand for education beyond the bachelor’s level. Marygrove has over 50 years’ experience in graduate education.

“But taking care of our undergraduate students was paramount in our mind,” Dr. Burns said. Because the decision was announced so close to the start of the Fall semester, Marygrove decided to open for the final semester for the incoming freshmen, transfer students and returning students who registered before the start of classes on September 5th.  We were concerned that it might be difficult or impossible for those students to get into local colleges, especially those whose start date was the end of August.

Over 300 students received academic advising and financial aid counseling. The 284 students who elected to stay at Marygrove for the final semester received an individualized work plan and help to identify the school that would be the right fit for them and transfer with the least amount of disruption. “Our goal for them and, we hope, their goal for themselves is that they realize their dream of a college degree,” said Dr. Burns.  With the generosity of the Kresge Foundation, Marygrove has established the Student Transition Fund to help ease some of the financial burden transferring to a new school may have caused them.

About 70 percent of the faculty and staff were released. Marygrove had 44 full-time and 4 part-time faculty; and 70 full-time and 12 part-time staff at the time of the announcement. Again with the help of the Kresge Foundation and other donors, Marygrove was able to offer those employees a severance package.

“Finally,” said Dr. Burns, “the Board wanted to preserve and maintain our 53 acres and the facilities, which are the legacy of the IHM in Detroit. In wanting the beautiful grounds and historic buildings to continue to serve the community, the Marygrove Board collaborated with the IHM Leadership Council and the Kresge Foundation to establish the Marygrove Conservancy. The governing board of the Conservancy is comprised of representatives from the IHM Sisters, with Sr. Jane Herb as Conservancy president, the College, the Marygrove community and the Kresge Foundation. The buildings, the grounds and facilities will soon be transferred to the Conservancy.”

For the first 70 + years, the College leased the facilities from the IHM Sisters; in 2009, the College purchased the grounds and facilities, which were subsequently mortgaged to a lender. The College will now lease the grounds and buildings from the Marygrove Conservancy.

What does the future look like now? Dr. Burns said, “We could not have made it this far – including even the opportunity to remain open at all – had it not been for our friends at the Kresge Foundation, who are as committed to seeing the resurgence of this northwest Detroit neighborhood as we are.” The four partners – Marygrove College, Kresge, the IHM Sisters and the Marygrove Conservancy – are exploring ways to continue educating on the grounds of Marygrove. Bringing together a consortium of educational institutions to provide educational opportunities from pre-school through the Master’s degree, a concept known as P-20, is an idea under serious discussion.

Marygrove College has 436 graduate students enrolled in its Education, Human Resource Management and Social Justice programs. Dr. Burns said, “We’re focused on their future. Marygrove’s grad programs give students an opportunity to advance their careers, their lives and the lives of their families and their communities.”

Marygrove’s new mission, awaiting Higher Learning Commission approval, does not stray far from its roots:

Marygrove College, an independent, Catholic graduate institution, sponsored by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

  • educates students from diverse backgrounds,
  • fosters values-based leadership,
  • provides innovative graduate studies and professional development toward career enhancement and social responsibility, and
  • serves as an institutional leader within the city of Detroit.

Dr. Burns said, “I am convinced that, given the plight of other small liberal arts colleges across the country, we’re fortunate to be able to stay open to serve graduate students and the community. Marygrove is a unique and special place.”

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