Both individuals and institutions have been hit hard by the pandemic and the seismic shock waves generated by the COVID19 pandemic, but few institutions have been upended to the degree that colleges and universities have experienced.
Many of these schools have been walking a financial tightrope even before the pandemic, and the coronavirus has pushed some of them to the point where they can no longer afford to operate. The latest example of this is the closing of Concordia College in Bronxville, New York, which announced that it will shut its doors for good this summer.
The closure was announced early in February, and the story gained traction among news outlets and press release distribution services soon after.
The details of the closing are all too familiar. The small, Lutheran college liberal arts college had to choose between two dire paths, according to John Nunes, the college president–one being a sudden closure, with the other consisting of a long and threadbare downward spiral. The option that was chosen instead allows for some element of continuity and transition so that existing students won’t be left completely high and dry.
The campus will be purchased by Iona College, a nearby Roman Catholic school in New Rochelle, and the two schools are currently developing a plan for current Concordia students to finish their studies and earn their degrees at Iona.
This particular closing is especially painful given Concordia’s illustrious history. The Concordia college system once consisted of over a half-dozen schools in different cities and states across the country, but the closings began in 2013 when the Concord University Ann Arbor had to be annexed by Concordia University Wisconsin.
The next domino to fall was Concordia College in Alabama, a primarily Black college that fell victim to shrinking enrollments and growing debt in 2018. Concordia University in Portland then gave way to the pandemic, announcing back in February that it would also close its doors.
It wasn’t hard to see the writing on the wall. The enrollment issue has been an issue for these schools for some time, with an enrollment of just 580 students this spring in the Bronxville school after approximately 1300 were added back in 2019.
The financial side wasn’t much brighter. Operating expenses continued to rise as more and more tuition discount rates had to be added, and the school’s finances were characterized as “precarious” by its accrediting body going back to the late 1980s.
The specifics of Concordia in Bronxville tell a sad and familiar story as well. Typical students are often part of families that consist of service workers, hotel staff and restaurant personnel, and many of these students were forced to drop out to help their families when parents lost jobs during the pandemic.
The makeup of the school is considered surprisingly diverse for a Lutheran school, with population segments consisting of 17 percent Hispanic students, 11 percent Black and 5 percent Asian to go with a white majority of approximately 41 percent. Most of the student body hails from within New York state, so the local effects will doubtless be quite severe in many NY communities that produced multiple Concordia students.
The Iona/Concordia partnership is the silver lining, with the two schools laying out a clear path for existing students to continue their studies. Iona also has plans to use the Concordia campus to develop a school for health sciences, which will allow Iona to capitalize on Concordia’s excellent academic reputation within the health sciences community.