Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

With a mounting deficit, Cabrini University eliminates academic leadership positions, including the provost

The plan comes as Cabrini faces a $5 million to $6 million deficit and as enrollment has slid to about 1,500, down from 2,360 in 2016. Cabrini also is exploring a merger, its interim president said.

The Cabrini University sign on its campus in Radnor.
The Cabrini University sign on its campus in Radnor.Read moreTyger Williams / Staff Photographer

As enrollment continues to decline and a deficit mounts, Cabrini University said it will eliminate a handful of senior academic leadership jobs — including the top spot of provost — as part of a larger reorganization to downsize.

Those cuts, with more to come later this academic year, are expected to save the small Catholic university in Radnor nearly $1 million this year, and along with efforts to secure new revenue sources, lead to a “break-even financial performance” within three years, said interim president Helen G. Drinan.

The plan, approved by Cabrini’s board of trustees Friday, comes as the university faces a $5 million to $6 million deficit in its $45 million budget this year and as enrollment has slid to about 1,500, down 36% from 2,360 in 2016-17. Friday’s announcement marks the second time in two years the university has announced a swath of changes to stem the losses and adjust to fewer students.

» READ MORE: Cabrini cuts staff, programs, as coronavirus pandemic and competition take toll

“We continue to lose money every year,” Drinan said. “That is no longer tenable. It can’t continue. We can’t hope for a better day. We have to work for a better day.”

Under the reorganization, Cabrini will go from three colleges to two, with the School of Education being absorbed by the School of Arts and Sciences. The School of Business and Professional Studies will remain as the other school. The provost — who acts as the chief academic officer — as well as the associate provost and three deans will be eliminated and replaced by a dean of academic affairs and two associate deans. And 18 department chairs will be reduced to eight: The faculty whose chair positions were eliminated will keep their teaching jobs but will no longer receive the stipends that come with that title.

Cuts also are planned for Institutional Advancement, the university’s fund-raising arm, which is completing a capital campaign this year. It will be asked to focus on fund-raising for immediate needs, rather than building the endowment, which stands at $34.6 million, Drinan said. And the office that handles student life will be reorganized.

The effort so far will result in a net loss of eight jobs and smaller salaries for some of those remaining, she said.

“We are taking out what we consider to be expense in the academic side that we just simply don’t need to spend,” she said.

Drinan said Cabrini is not facing closure because it is taking steps to resolve the financial strain.

But asked if it were exploring a merger, Drinan responded: “Absolutely. We are talking to all sorts of different people about possibilities because even though we are on track that sustains an opportunity for independence, I think the direction in higher education in the United States makes it irresponsible not to be looking at those opportunities.” She said she wasn’t ready to talk about potential partners.

» READ MORE: Enrollment at colleges nationally continues to fall. ‘It is particularly troubling,’ researcher says.

The announcement comes as many colleges across the country continue to cope with declining enrollment, already dropping as the number of high school graduates fell, but then accelerating with the pandemic. College enrollment declined nationally again this fall, with steeper drops in Pennsylvania where competition among colleges is keen. Another projected decline in high school graduates looms in 2025.

Some schools have turned to mergers. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education this year merged six of its universities into two entities, while St. Joseph’s University absorbed the University of the Sciences. And this week, Montclair University, a public research university in New Jersey, announced it would absorb the struggling Bloomfield College, a small, private liberal arts school that primarily serves Black and Hispanic students.

Cabrini was founded in 1957 by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (MSC), the religious order of the college’s namesake, Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini. It has had a focus on social justice learning throughout its history. Originally a college, it became a university in 2016.

» READ MORE: Cabrini cuts staff, programs, as coronavirus pandemic and competition take toll

Its financial problems have been building over years.

Standard & Poor’s downgraded Cabrini’s credit rating this month to “BBB-” from “BBB,” citing the institution’s long run of enrollment declines and operating losses. Because Cabrini has no plans to issue new debt, according to S&P, the downgrade has little direct impact on the school.

Cabrini has not yet released financial results for the fiscal year that ended June 30 but S&P said it expects losses to continue through at least the current fiscal year, which ends next June. In financial disclosures to bondholders, Cabrini has posted operating losses for nine straight years, back to fiscal 2013. The documents show that enrollment, as measured by total headcount, has fallen for at least five straight years, to 1,760 in the 2021-22 school year from 2,360 in the 2016-17 school year.

In March 2021, Cabrini, which at the time employed about 250 people full time, eliminated 46 positions through voluntary separation agreements, layoffs, and unfilled jobs, and targeted 15 of its 69 programs for elimination or change. Today, the college has 204 full-time employees.

Drinan, formerly president of the private Simmons University in Boston, which she helped to lead out of deficit, has been at Cabrini for just four-and-a-half months. She replaced Donald Taylor, who left in February. Cabrini continues to search for a new president, and Drinan said she is attempting to deal with the financial problems so the job will be more attractive to a new leader.

She said she expects that some will question the moves: Members of the board initially asked if it’s even possible for a college to not have a provost.

“Well, of course you could actually not have a provost,” she said. “It has become an added expense that a school of our size just simply does not need.”

This story was updated to reflect the correct number of department chairs who will keep their jobs.