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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

'Stritch made me feel like home:' Students, alumni process news of university's sudden closure

Gal Dahan is an international student, graduating from Stritch this May. She also is on the women's basketball team and works as an RA in the dorms.
Audrey Nowakowski
Gal Dahan is an international student, graduating from Stritch this May. She also is on the women's basketball team and works as an RA in the dorms.

Amber Johnson graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in nursing. Since then, she hadn't been back. That is, until she heard the news that her alma matter was closing, after 86 years in operation.

Enrollment at the Catholic university has plummeted from about 6,000 in 2010 to just over 1,000 this year. President Dan Scholz said the university isn’t financially able to continue.

"I was just really sad," Johnson says. "I mean, like, I hadn’t been back to visit, but it did hurt to know it was closing because it was such a formative time in my life."

Johnson decided it was time to go back. She organized a campus visit with two of her friends, who she met at Stritch.

Stritch alum Amber Johnson (right) visited the campus with two friends after learning the school was closing.
Audrey Nowakowski
Stritch alum Amber Johnson (right) visited the campus with two friends after learning the school was closing.

They visit the now-closed student cafe, where Johnson used to order coffee and chicken nuggets, and the hidden nook where she used to study for exams.

Johnson tells stories about dorm life as the group walks down a long corridor from Bonaventure to Serra Hall.

"There used to be a shopping cart that would help people move, and it would be parked up here or down by Clare [Hall], and in the middle of the night we would get in it and ride down the ramp," Johnson laughs. "Many crashes, many injuries."

Johnson says it’s the people that make Stritch. The nursing professors who encouraged her after she failed a class her freshman year. The friends whose weddings she’s been in.

Amber Johnson poses outside of Stritch's nursing school, where she studied and graduated in 2014.
Audrey Nowakowski
Amber Johnson poses outside of Stritch's nursing school, where she studied and graduated in 2014.

Current students will tell you the same thing.

"It's devastating," says Gal Dahan, a senior studying communications and psychology. "We don't have the word devastating in my language, but I think in English, it's absolutely a very special word. Devastating is something that is – you feel like everything falls apart. And that's how it seems like."

A quarter of Stritch undergrads are international students, including Dahan, who is from Israel.

Extended conversation with Gal Dahan, one of the last graduating seniors from Cardinal Stritch University.

She says, when she first started at Stritch in 2019, she was homesick and scared to reveal that she’s Jewish. But a staff member encouraged her to open up, and in 2021, Stritch held its first menorah lighting ceremony for Hanukkah.

"Stritch made me feel like home," Dahan says. "You know, I’m Jewish, it’s a Catholic university, but after years I still felt home. And I just found it amazing and incredible that teachers embrace you, and support where you come from, and support your religion, even if you don’t follow what they believe in."

Dahan is part of Stritch’s last graduating class. As a resident assistant in the dorms and a member of the women's basketball team, she says her focus is on helping the younger students, who have to rethink their college plans on short notice.

Alex Moon is a junior at Cardinal Stritch who is trying to figure out next steps once the school closes.
Audrey Nowakowski
Alex Moon is a junior at Cardinal Stritch who is trying to figure out next steps once the school closes.

Junior psychology major Alex Moon, 20, is one of them.

"Is this a sign to take the semester off?" Moon says. "I feel like a lot of students think about that because things get chaotic — mental health, financial matters, you know, anything. And I was like oh, should I take a break?"

If Moon does transfer, UW-Milwaukee is at the top of the list. But they have concerns about financial aid and how many credits will transfer over.

As of Friday, five schools had entered “Teach Out” agreements, which means they’ll allow Stritch transfers to graduate in the same amount of time for the same amount of money. Those schools are Alverno, Mount Mary, Lakeland University, Viterbo and St. Norbert.

Marquette University held an information fair for Cardinal Stritch students on April 18.
Emily Files
Marquette University held an information fair for Cardinal Stritch students on April 18.

As Moon tries to figure out whether and where to transfer, they still have positive feelings toward Stritch.

"I don’t want anyone to frown upon Stritch," says Moon. "Like as much as this was a crappy decision, crappy timing, like, there’s still a beautiful community here and it’s a great school."

Students will have more opportunities to hear from other colleges, at transfer fairs on campus. Area colleges are also reaching out to Stritch’s 200 employees about job opportunities.

Stritch’s final commencement ceremony is on May 21.

Editor's note: WUWM's Audrey Nowakowski contributed to this report.

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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