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Fontbonne University to close, cites dwindling endowment and enrollment

Ryan Hall on the campus of Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, photographed on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Ryan Hall on the campus of Fontbonne University in Clayton, Missouri, photographed on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023.

Updated at 3:10 p.m. March 11 with reaction from students

Citing dwindling enrollment numbers and a shrinking endowment, officials of Clayton-based Fontbonne University announced Monday that the Catholic institution will close in 2025.

The board of trustees voted Sunday to shut down the century-old college, said Nancy Blattner, the school’s president. The private school will not welcome another freshman class but will continue classes to graduate as many of its current students as possible, she said.

The school will provide students with assistance and information about completing their degrees elsewhere if they can’t or don’t want to finish at Fontbonne, Blattner said.

“Many who are hearing this message will experience shock, hurt and anger,” Blattner said in a video message on the school’s website. “Please know that members of the university community and the leadership team have worked tirelessly through the past few years to forge a viable path forward.”

The university has not been able to bounce back from declining student enrollment and budget problems, she said.

Fontbonne canceled many classes on Monday and asked students to come to an 11:30 a.m. meeting in the school’s gymnasium.

“It was very sad; a lot of people were crying,” said Ogechi Okpara of St. Louis, who graduated in December with a degree in elementary education. “I feel really bad. I’m obviously happy I got a chance to graduate before it closed.

"But the freshmen and everyone that has all these friends and people that they met — they were basically advised not to stay here because you can’t graduate here," she said. "It will be gone before they have a chance to graduate.”

Washington University, which abuts the northern end of the smaller Fontbonne campus, has agreed to purchase the land, Wash U officials confirmed Monday. The larger university will lease the 16 acres back to Fontbonne as the school winds down operations.

Wash U does not have further plans for the property, school officials said.

“We are saddened that Fontbonne University’s Board has made the difficult decision to cease operations," Washington University officials said in a statement. “Our institutions have enjoyed a long history of mutual support and friendship as neighbors and community partners.”

In 2022, there were fewer than 700 undergraduate students enrolled at Fontbonne, according to the university’s website. The overall enrollment was approximately 944.

Dylan Scruggs, a sophomore nursing major from St. Louis, said the school’s announcement confirmed what many students had suspected was coming.

“This campus has been here for one hundred years,” he said. “That legacy — and that’s really what it is — just done.”

Scruggs said he plans to continue studying nursing but is heartbroken that he won’t be able to finish his studies at Fontbonne.

“This school has given me so much and given me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do for a while,” he said. “So it’s really sad to see it all coming down to an end.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated when Fontbonne University's board voted to shut down the college. The vote occurred Sunday.

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Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.
Lauren Brennecke