- Saint Leo University, in Florida, and Marymount California University will abandon plans to merge following troubles securing approval from an accreditor.
- The two Catholic institutions announced in July that they intended for Saint Leo to acquire Marymount California, which had been seeking a partner for years. Saint Leo would have taken over Marymount California's $60 million campus, as well as its debt, which news reports said amounted to about $3.7 million.
- However, in December, Saint Leo's accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACSCOC, declined to endorse the deal. It said Saint Leo had not produced a plan sufficiently demonstrating it could meet the agency's standard requiring responsible budgeting.
Saint Leo and Marymount California negotiated over a merger proposal for months before unveiling it publicly in July.
At the time, Marymount California, which suffered from years of enrollment declines prior to the pandemic, said the spread of the coronavirus prompted it to more aggressively seek a potential buyer.
It decided on Saint Leo, roughly 30 miles north of Tampa. Saint Leo says it enrolls about 18,000 students across its main campus, online programs and dozen-plus branch locations, while Marymount California enrolled more than 580 students in fall 2020, according to federal data.
The two universities initially wanted to close the merger deal in January 2023. But the SACSCOC decision in December threw a wrench in planning.
Ultimately, the governing boards of both institutions decided to not pursue the merger. The two boards reached the decision mutually last week, Saint Leo said in a statement Thursday.
Because SACSCOC did not give its blessing as anticipated, the institutions faced an extended timeline to move forward with the deal and "ultimately decided it was in the best interests of both universities to part ways amicably," Saint Leo said.
Marymount California President Brian Marcotte said in an emailed statement that the university "is actively exploring every viable path for our future."
The university's board of trustees and senior leadership will meet soon to discuss next steps, Marcotte said.
"We remain hopeful," he said.
Higher education experts predicted the pandemic would hasten the demise of some institutions, particularly small nonprofit colleges.
Closures have not come en masse as some anticipated, and federal coronavirus relief funding helped many institutions weather financial troubles. But colleges slated to close or merge have cited financial stressors from the pandemic as a factor.
Lincoln College, a predominantly Black institution in Illinois, recently said it would shut down in May in part because the health crisis delivered a blow to fundraising and campus life.