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June 23, 2023

Cabrini University to close in 2024 after years of financial trouble; Villanova to buy campus property

The small Catholic college on the Main Line has been operating with a budget deficit since 2013; it has tried cutting staff and eliminating academic programs to get solvent

Education Universities
Cabrini closing Villanova Cabrini University/Flickr

Cabrini University will close following the 2023-2024 academic year. The small Catholic college in Radnor, Delaware County, has an tentative agreement to sell its campus property to Villanova University.

Cabrini University will close after its 2024 spring semester, and there is a tentative agreement to sell its Radnor, Delaware County campus to Villanova University, officials from both schools said in a statement Friday.

Cabrini's financial problems have been mounting for a decade and they worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other higher-education institutions, the school is faced with declining enrollment and economic uncertainty. Officials said that despite attempts to generate more revenue and changes to the school's leadership, "Cabrini's operating deficit remained insurmountable."

Villanova University, which has its campus about two miles away from Cabrini, also in Radnor, has a tentative agreement to purchase the school's property, officials said Friday. Both schools are Catholic universities and Cabrini's leaders said they initiated talks for the deal.

"As neighboring Catholic institutions connected by our aligned, faith-based missions, the boards of Villanova and Cabrini universities have approved in principle an agreement that will preserve Cabrini's history, mission, ministry, and legacy after the school graduates its final class in May 2024 and concludes operations," the statement from Cabrini president Helen Drinan and Villanova president the Rev. Peter M. Donohue reads

If the sale is approved by board members at both universities, Cabrini will reopen in the fall for its final two semesters. Officials from Villanova and Cabrini will work with Cabrini's students to transfer to new schools and help Cabrini's faculty and staff find new jobs. Last school year, Cabrini had an enrollment of 1,186 undergraduate students and 430 graduate students.

Cabrini has created pages on its website with more information and resources for students and parents and for faculty and staff.

As the news broke Friday, other colleges in the area openly recruited Cabrini students to transfer to their schools. Gwynedd Mercy University, in Montgomery County, and Rosemont College, another Main Line School about 10 minutes from Cabrini, both announced they would accept Cabrini transfer credits and match student's financial aid packages.

Others courting Cabrini transfers included Eastern University, also in Radnor, and Holy Family University, in Northeast Philly.

When the spring semester ends Villanova will get ownership of Cabrini's campus 112-acre campus, adding that to its existing 260 acres. The property will be known as the Villanova Cabrini campus, and the Villanova will continue some of Cabrini's programming in education, nursing, service, immigration and the advancement of women, officials said. 

"While this is an important step to sustain the Cabrinian tradition, it creates a very difficult and emotional time for all of us connected to the university," Drinan said in video posted on the school's website.

Cabrini has been operating with a budget deficit since 2013. In March 2021, the college cut some academic programs and staff with the hope of saving $5.7 million. In the fall, with Cabrini still running a deficit of more than $5 million in a budget of $45, university officials opted to eliminate some senior academic leadership jobs, including its provost.

Founded in 1957 by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Cabrini's first class consisted of 43 students, all women. The first men were admitted to the college in 1970. And in 2016, Cabrini College became Cabrini University with approval of its application by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

Throughout its history, Cabrini has focused on social justice learning and was among the first colleges to add an undergraduate community service requirement into its curriculum.

Cabrini closing and Villanova taking over its property is the latest move in the shifting landscape of higher education. Last spring, Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities merged to become Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania. Also, Clarion University, Edinboro University and California University of Pennsylvania merged to become Pennsylvania Western University.

St. Joseph's University has finalized mergers with University of the Sciences and the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences during the last year, and earlier in June, Drexel and Salas universities agreed to merge.

In their joint statement, Drinan and Villanova president Rev. Peter M. Donohue said that they would provide updates on the deal as conversations continue.