154-year-old Holy Names University in Oakland closing next year, officials say

"The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated and exacerbated existing challenges, and disproportionately impacted the students HNU serves."

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Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Holy Names University in Oakland to close next year: officials
Holy Names University in Oakland will be closing after the spring 2023 semester, officials said.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Holy Names University in Oakland will be closing next year, officials announced on Monday. The 154-year-old university said it could not economically recover from challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press release, the university has struggled to remain open as it faced increasing operational costs, declining enrollment with a need for institutional scholarships.

It will shut down after the spring 2023 semester. It opened in 1868.

"Like many colleges and universities nationally, HNU has faced many headwinds including increasing operational costs, declining numbers of high school graduates nationally and economic shifts leading to declining enrollment. HNU had a strong 5-year strategic business plan and secured long-term financing, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated and exacerbated existing challenges, and disproportionately impacted the students HNU serves, many from under-resourced communities or who are first-generation college students," HNU Board Chairperson Steven Borg said.

There are approximately 520 undergrads and 423 graduate students enrolled at Holy Names University, the school said. However, only 449 in total are enrolled for spring 2023, the school said, citing proof of a drop in enrollment.

"We have been doing our best to find a partner to keep the university functioning and continue HNU's mission," said Borg. "While we've had interest in long-term collaboration from potential partners, we do not have the type of interest that would sustain HNU in continuing to offer its own programs and services, so we are forced to make the difficult decision to close and designate a transfer institution in the best interest of our students."

The university said it plans cancel its NCAA sports programs, began issuing WARN ACT notices to staff on Dec. 1 and begin giving layoff notices to 32 employees. Layoffs are expected to start at the end of January or early February, the statement said.

The school says it will continue to support HNU students and staff.

"First and foremost, ensuring HNU students will be able to continue their academic path forward is our top priority," Borg added. "We are also doing everything in our power to support our faculty and staff during this period of uncertainty."

Holy Names said students who complete their degree requirements by the end of the spring semester, or are currently progressing in the school's graduate nursing programs, will be able to graduate from Holy Names.

Students who still need to finish their education at HNU beyond next May 2023 have the option to continue at Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

The two schools agreed to transfer academic programs from Holy Names University to Dominican University after the approval by the accreditation body.

Also, there is a possibility Holy Names University faculty and staff could be considered for similar roles at Dominican.

Dominican University released a statement writing:

"The missions and degree offerings of our two institutions are beautifully aligned," said Dominican University of California President Nicola Pitchford. "And our student populations are similar-Dominican has demonstrated success in supporting students of all backgrounds, so we know we are well prepared to help Holy Names students thrive. We look forward to inviting Holy Names University's continuing students to a new, vibrant and inclusive home in San Rafael."

The U.S.-Ontario Province Leadership Team of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, the sponsoring member of the University, made the following statement:

"The Sisters of the Holy Names are immensely proud of the 154-year history and legacy of Holy Names University. We are deeply saddened that the University will need to cease operations and that future generations will not experience its inspiring mission and values. Our hearts and prayers are with current HNU students, faculty, staff, alumni, and all who are a part of this beloved institution. This is a painful moment for all of us, including the University's Board of Trustees, who have been entrusted with leadership and fiduciary responsibility. We know that they have worked tirelessly and with the highest integrity, loyalty, expertise, and commitment to the HNU mission. They have done their due diligence and explored every other alternative available. In the name of all of the Sisters, we thank them for their extraordinary efforts on behalf of Holy Names University."

Holy Names is in discussions with other institutions on sustaining the Kodaly Music Program. The Raskob Learning Institute and Day School will either operate independently or in partnership with a new institution after this school year.

Officials said the college explored mergers, but found other schools had many of the same issues. Bord said "there is not only $49 million in debt on HNU's property, but as a 65-year-old campus the costs of deferred maintenance and compliance upgrades could be over $200 million. That is a large undertaking for any college or university."

"The financial situation of the university changed dramatically this fall," Borg said. "It was a herculean effort to find a path to the spring semester and allow HNU an orderly end. This included the procurement of additional financial resources, and collaboration with Dominican. I am so grateful to members of the university cabinet, staff, and faculty, our advisors, and my fellow trustees."

Holy Names University is a fully accredited, Roman Catholic, co-educational university. Founded by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in 1868, HNU offers a liberal arts and professional education to prepare a diverse student body for productive lives of leadership and service.

The university was originally established as the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in 1868 by six members of the Sisters of the Holy Names, a teaching order from Quebec, Canada. The original site of the convent was on the shores of Lake Merritt. In 1957 the school moved to its present location in the Oakland hills.

Bay City News contributed to this report