- Chatfield College, in Ohio, announced Monday it will stop operating as a two-year Catholic institution and will convert to a nonprofit group focused on improving degree attainment starting in January.
- Officials pinned the decision on declining enrollment worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Bleak demographic trends were likely to compound the falling enrollment going forward, they said.
- The new nonprofit, dubbed Chatfield Edge, intends to help historically disadvantaged students, including adults and those who stopped out of college, with career counseling, finding and paying for college, and securing other financial assistance.
Changes at Chatfield offer another example of how religious institutions, staring down financial pressures, have adapted or shut down.
Religious institutions have long struggled to sustain enrollment, resulting in a spate of mergers or closures in recent years. Among them are St. Louis Christian College, in Missouri, which formally joined with Central Christian College of the Bible this year, and Marygrove College, in Michigan, which shut down in 2019. The Marygrove Conservancy subsequently started working to turn the campus into a P-20 "cradle-to-career" site hosting schools, events and other programming.
Pundits predicted widespread college closures in the last few years as COVID-19 stressed the economy. This did not immediately come to pass with federal coronavirus aid buoying college and state budgets, but questions are resurfacing as the extra federal support dries up.
At Chatfield, enrollment has dwindled to about 100 students, all of whom can finish out the fall 2022 semester, officials said. To help those slated to graduate in spring 2023 finish their degrees, the college has struck teach-out agreements with two other institutions — Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, and Southern State Community College.
Chatfield maintains two campuses, one in downtown Cincinnati, the other to the east in Brown County. It said it needed to convert to a nonprofit group “sooner rather than later” to preserve resources.
“Supporting our students and staff as we make this transition is our number one priority,” President Robert Elmore said in a statement. “While we will no longer teach classes or confer associate degrees, we will do everything in our power to ensure those who want a postsecondary education have the resources and support they need to reach their educational goals.”
Elmore will guide the college’s transition to a nonprofit agency, which is expected to start up in January 2023. It will initially be a small venture, with only three full-time employees, according to Chatfield.
In addition to assisting students with navigating and paying for college, Chatfield Edge will also teach skills like interview preparation and budgeting. Officials said they will use an annual draw from its endowment to fund student scholarships.