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Cabrini cuts staff, programs, as coronavirus pandemic and competition take toll

The cuts will help stem a deficit and give the school in Delaware County a “sustainable path forward,” the university said.

Cabrini University campus in Radnor, Delaware County.
Cabrini University campus in Radnor, Delaware County.Read moreCabrini University

With colleges already competing for fewer high school graduates before the coronavirus pandemic took a toll, Cabrini University is to announce Monday it is cutting programs and staff to stem a deficit and give the college a “sustainable path forward.”

The small Catholic college in Radnor, which employs about 250 full time, is eliminating 46 positions, the bulk through voluntary separation agreements, but also including about 10 layoffs and some jobs that will go unfilled. Perhaps the most significant change is that Cabrini, a liberal arts college that became a university in 2016, will eliminate majors in religious studies, Black studies and philosophy, though they will continue as minors and subject matter will be incorporated into the core curriculum. Overall, 15 of Cabrini’s 69 programs have been tagged for elimination or change, said President Donald B. Taylor.

“You can no longer be all things to all people,” Taylor said, given the pressures of the market.

The decisions, Taylor said, follow a comprehensive review of programs, with cuts targeted to those that had low enrollment and are without much potential for future growth. Some of the programs were averaging fewer than five new majors a year, he said. He shared the changes with faculty and staff late Friday afternoon.

» READ MORE: Cabrini to become a university

“There’s quite a bit of shock,” said Todd Matthews, department chair for leadership, organizational development and change, and acting faculty assembly chair, “especially when you are looking at eliminating areas that are kind of central to the liberal arts mission. Sadly, we’re seeing this all over the country, though it doesn’t make it any easier.”

But he credited the administration with being transparent about the challenges facing Cabrini.

“I really do feel like this has been a pretty fair process,” Matthews said.

The changes at Cabrini come as more colleges are trying to cope with demographic challenges that mean fewer available high school graduates and more competition for them, all complicated further by the pandemic, which has led to lower enrollments and increased costs. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is planning to merge six of its 14 universities into two entities. Some colleges have eliminated adjunct positions and other staff; in the last year, the higher education sector has lost more than 650,000 jobs out of 3.5 million. St. Joseph’s University and the University of the Sciences recently announced they are considering a merger.

» READ MORE: St. Joe's and University of the Sciences propose merger

Founded in 1957, Cabrini, which enrolls about 1,550 undergraduates and 525 graduate, doctoral and professional studies students, is not exploring a merger, Taylor said, but will be looking for more partnerships.

In recent years, the school has been coping with deficits. The fiscal year before the pandemic hit, the college had a deficit of less than a million in its $50 million budget, Taylor said, and that amount doubled in fiscal year 2020, without accounting for COVID-19 relief. The university froze tuition, fees and room and board for next year.

» READ MORE: Cabrini goes test optional

As the higher education market became more strained, Cabrini in 2019 hired a consultant to help evaluate all of its operations.

“We really wanted to look at everything,” said Taylor, who has led Cabrini since 2014.

Under the plan, the university also will discontinue majors in gender and body studies, human resources management, liberal studies, and nutrition and secondary education certifications in biology and chemistry. A master’s in biological sciences and two certificate programs also are being phased out, and English and writing will be offered as a combined major. The university also plans to go from four colleges to three, but hasn’t yet identified which one will be eliminated.

Students currently in programs that will be phased out will be able to finish their degrees; no new students will be admitted, Taylor said.

The cuts and changes should save Cabrini about $5.7 million, equivalent to about 11% of its overall budget, Taylor said. Overall, the cuts will mean about a 13% reduction in the workforce, he said, noting that there will be some new positions created. They will position Cabrini, perhaps best known for its business, education and communication programs, to not just survive but thrive, he said.

Taylor said the decisions about cuts would not be affected by upcoming stimulus funds the school will receive. Cabrini could get nearly $5 million if projections hold true, about half of which must be awarded as emergency aid to students.