Marymount California University in Rancho Palos Verdes to close

Marymount California University, a small Catholic school in Rancho Palos Verdes, will close its doors this summer after more than 50 years in operation, officials announced Friday.

The decision to close stems in large part to financial struggles driven by falling enrollment, increasing operating costs and the COVID-19 pandemic, the university said in a statement.

“Ultimately, it’s financial considerations. And when you look at what causes those financial considerations, the reality is we are tuition-driven … tuition is driven by enrollment. And we’ve seen a decline in enrollment really since about 2014 or so,“ Brian Marcotte, the university’s president, said in a telephone interview with The Times on Saturday.

“We’re disappointed, for sure, and one thing we can say about Marymount is it’s a very family-like institution and everyone’s feeling the pain concurrently.”

The announcement comes about six months after the 54-year-old institution agreed to merge with Saint Leo University in Florida in a move that was billed as an opportunity to expand both schools’ offerings. But the merger was scuttled in recent months after the regulatory approval process hit a snag.

The final slate of courses will end this summer, and the school will permanently close on Aug. 31, officials said.

Marcotte said the school would help its 500 full-time students transfer to other universities and colleges and assist 140 full-time faculty and staff in finding other work. A small number of staffers will remain employed to help wind down the college’s operations.

“Our goal right now is to do everything that we can for our three major constituencies — that’s our students, faculty and staff,” Marcotte said. “We want to help them make that transition from Marymount to somewhere else if there’s anything that we can do.”

Marymount California University began as a two-year junior college called Marymount Palos Verdes College in 1968, when it was founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Nine years ago, the school updated its name “to reflect its expansion to a multi-campus institution of higher learning, offering both four-year undergraduate degrees as well as graduate degree programs.”

The widening of the university’s scope and footprint was typified by the planned merger with Saint Leo. But that deal’s failure, combined with strong financial and enrollment headwinds familiar to many small, private colleges across the nation, drove the decision by the university’s board of trustees to close its doors, the school said.

Though Marymount California offers only a handful of degree programs, it also fielded a number of sports teams, including a nationally ranked men’s soccer team.

Marcotte said he believes Marymount California’s closure is indicative of financial struggles faced by many smaller colleges and universities. He said such institutions should “recognize your deficiencies early and work to address them early” if they hope to adapt to the shifting financial landscape of higher education.

“I think it’s going to be a trend with smaller, private institutions that are going to be under additional pressure,” he said.

“There have been other schools that have made productive arrangements. I think they’re out there. I honestly think the arrangement we were working on with Saint Leo in Florida was a very productive option for us. But I think the issue there was the timeline.”