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Universities in Wisconsin and beyond line up to serve those impacted by Cardinal Stritch University closure

More than 30 schools negotiating transfer agreements for students no longer able to finish degrees at 85-year-old Milwaukee university

Cardinal Stritch Sign
After more than 85 years, Milwaukee’s Cardinal Stritch University will close at the end of its spring semester in May. President Dan Scholz said the news is devastating for students, employees and the community but declining enrollment and “fiscal realities” left no alternative. Evan Casey/WPR

Public and private universities in Wisconsin and beyond are vying to recruit students impacted by the upcoming closure of Milwaukee’s Cardinal Stritch University.

It’s been just more than two weeks since Cardinal Stritch President Dan Scholz announced the university will permanently close its doors next month. The university, which enrolled 1,365 students in the fall of 2021 according to federal data, said it was pursuing agreements with area universities to help students with unfinished degrees transfer to other schools.

On Friday, Cardinal Stritch University held a college transfer fair featuring 38 public and private universities from Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Ohio.

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Among them was Herzing University, a private, nonprofit school with three campuses in Madison, Brookfield and Kenosha. Regional President Jeff Hill said his school is dedicating resources to make it easier for students to transfer. That includes a “Closed School Equalization Scholarship” program that promises to allow students to finish their degrees without paying any additional out-of-pocket expenses.

“We want to minimize any financial impact to them,” Hill said.

Hill said he and his colleagues at Herzing have sympathy for Cardinal Stritch staff and students.

“Certainly the environment in higher education has become very challenging, certainly over the last couple of years with the pandemic,” Hill said. “And there’s significant demographic changes going on in our country that are reducing the number of college age students enrolling in college.”

Hill said Herzing University has been fortunate to increase enrollment in recent years. Federal data show there are 3,942 students enrolled at its three Wisconsin campuses this school year.

Herzing University is still working with Cardinal Stritch administrators on formal transfer agreements for impacted students. So far, Lakeland University, Mount Mary University, Alverno College, St. Norbert College and Viterbo University are the only institutions that have signed teach-out agreements with the soon-to-be shuttered school that offer direct admission and similar tuition costs. Discussions with 30 other colleges and universities are ongoing, according to Cardinal Stritch University.

“So really, it’s the guaranteed admission, the seamless transfer, we promise similar financial aid packaging and also the (same) time to degree completion,” said Beth Borgen, president of Lakeland University. “We wouldn’t want someone to come here and have to repeat another year.”

Borgen said a similar agreement was forged with Holy Family College in Manitowoc when it closed in 2020, and some former Holy Family employees now work for Lakeland. She said the pandemic was tough on students and universities. Borgen said last fall’s freshman class was stronger than those in the early years of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We did receive federal funding to offset much of that loss,” Borgen said. “But this year we still have the problem with us because those small classes take four years to graduate. So, while the federal funding has sunset, we still have these two small classes working through the pipeline.”

UW-Whitewater already had transfer agreements with Cardinal Stritch University before the unexpected closure. Assistant Vice Chancellor for Enrollment, Jackie Briggs, said they’re in talks to expand those offerings.

“We’re trying our best to remove different fee costs as far as application fees for graduate students, removing orientation fees and trying to make some of those steps along the enrollment process easier,” Briggs said.

After 85 years, Cardinal Stritch University will hold its final commencement ceremony Sunday, May 21. It’s the second private university in Wisconsin to close its doors since 2020. On July 1, classes will also end at UW-Platteville’s campus in Richland Center after enrollment fell to 60 students last fall.