Wednesday, June 01, 2016

St. Catharine College in Ky. says it will close, blames dispute with U.S. Department of Education

When the only women's college in Kentucky announced last month that it would admit men as resident students for the first time, the president of Midway University indicated it was a move for survival in "challenging times for private higher education." His point was illustrated in another small Kentucky town today, as Saint Catharine College near Springfield announced that it would close next month.

The school went four-year in 2003.
In a press release, the chair of the Roman Catholic college's board blamed "the decline in overall enrollment, caused recently by the federal Department of Education's admitted wrongful withholding of student aid on several key academic programs," as well as the debt the college took on in building facilities such as "residence halls, a health-sciences building, and most recently a state-of-the-art library." Enrollment had declined to 475 from 600.

The Education Department acknowledged wrongfully withholding $42,671, but more than $1.1 million was at issue. "St. Catharine estimates it has spent roughly $660,000 of its own money on aid payments it argues the federal agency should have covered," Marcus Green reported for Louisville's WDRB-TV in March. In mediation, the agency refused to pay damages for harming the school's enrollment and reputation, the press release said.

The main issue was "whether the college needed to obtain federal approval to disburse financial aid to students enrolled in undergraduate degree programs that were added from 2011 to 2014. St. Catharine didn’t seek the approval, according to the lawsuit, because it did not believe those programs amounted to a substantial change in the college’s offerings," Green reported in February.

"Administrators are working to find colleges willing to take the programs and students," Stephan Johnson reports for WDRB. Those include Midway University and nearby Campbellsville University.

The college is home to a sustainable-farming program founded by author-farmer-poet Wendell Berry and his daughter Mary, who told Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader that she wasn't ready to say where it will go.

"Michael Lewis, founder and director of the Growing Warriors Project in Livingston, which provides farming education to veterans and others, graduated in May with the Berry program’s first class," Blackford reports. "Lewis said he learned much about farm policy, philosophy and community development, and said he found it ironic that St. Catharine, a community anchor in a largely agrarian area, would close."

“It’s the economic anchor of this community,” he told Blackford. “I think it speaks to the ways our communities and cultures are controlled from afar. It’s really going to affect a lot of people, and it’s something that didn’t have to happen.”

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