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

At least 60% of Cardinal Stritch students displaced by closure transferred to new schools

Sebastian Rios was a freshman at Cardinal Stritch when the closure was announced. He is now a sophomore transfer student at Marquette University.
Emily Files
Sebastian Rios was a freshman at Cardinal Stritch when the closure was announced. He is now a sophomore transfer student at Marquette University.

About six months ago, Cardinal Stritch University in Fox Point, Wisconsin announced it was closing. Enrollment had plummeted, and its leaders said it was no longer financially viable.

That left 805 Stritch students, 337 undergraduate and 468 graduate and doctoral, who hadn’t finished their degrees with just a few months to figure out their next steps.

When Sebastian Rios found out Cardinal Stritch would close, the news “hit him like a truck.” He was thriving as a freshman, living on-campus and connecting with his teachers. He never expected that a year later, he would be starting over as a transfer student at Marquette University.

"It’s definitely been a big transition in comparison to my old university," Rios says. "But it’s been a very welcome shift. This is a university I always dreamed of going to since my original college search in my senior year of high school. It’s funny how everything played out."

Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski & WUWM education reporter Emily Files speak with faculty, including Stritch University President Dr. Dan Scholz, and students about the upcoming closure of the university.

Even though Marquette was his dream school, Rios chose Stritch in 2022 because of its generous financial aid. But when he applied to Marquette as a transfer student, he says he was given a full ride.

Rios is one of 41 Stritch students (14 undergraduate and 27 graduate) who transferred to Marquette.

He says the main differences are the class sizes — Marquette is way bigger than Stritch — and the fact that he’s commuting, rather than living on campus.

"I was actually talking with my dad a few days ago about how I miss Cardinal Stritch and living there and that whole experience," Rios says. "And he’s just telling me to look past it at this point, and reminisce as a happy memory and a stepping stone in my life."

When Stritch announced its closure, schools in Milwaukee and beyond worked quickly to set up transfer and teach-out agreements. Teach-outs are pledges to accept all of students' credits and match financial aid.

Stritch isn't collecting data on where students ended up, according to spokesperson Kathleen Hohl.

I reached out to 17 schools that created transfer paths for Stritch students, and was able to account for about 510 of the 805 displaced students, or 63%.

Carroll University, UWM and Mount Mary were some of the top transfer destinations for Stritch undergraduates. Graduate students transferred in high numbers to Alverno and Concordia.

>> Are you a Stritch alum or college administrator? Help WUWM track where Stritch students ended up by emailing education reporter Emily Files at files@uwm.edu.

Leah Toerpe works in admissions at Concordia, which is located eight miles north of Stritch in Mequon. Ninety-four Stritch students transferred there (21 undergraduate and 73 graduate), according to preliminary numbers.

"I think the unique piece for the Cardinal Stritch group was that they weren’t planning to do this at all," Toerpe says. "So they were more — a lot more questions, a lot more apprehensive as they explored this option."

Jacob Carlson transferred to Concordia after three years at Stritch. In the spring, he’ll graduate with a bachelor's degree in communications from Concordia, even though he’ll have spent only one year there.

"I think I’ll be labeling myself as graduates of both universities," Carlson says. "Because without both, I wouldn’t be the man and person that I am today."

Jacob Carlson, a senior transfer student from Stritch, now works at the Concordia University Welcome Center.
Emily Files
Jacob Carlson, a senior transfer student from Stritch, now works at the Concordia University Welcome Center.

We don't know how many students dropped out of college after Stritch closed.

Rachel Burns is a policy analyst at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. She studied what happened to about 140,000 students who experienced college closures between 2004 and 2020. The findings were concerning.

"A very large percentage of students — more than half, dropped out of higher education entirely," Burns says.

Thirty-seven percent of students who reenrolled finished their degrees.

Most of the closures Burns reviewed were at private, for-profit schools. The outcomes are better for students at nonprofit colleges like Stritch. Seventy-one percent of that group reenrolled, and more than half earned a degree.

Stritch isn’t the only Wisconsin university that’s losing money due to declining enrollment. Burns says, if other universities decide to close, they should prioritize student success by sharing the news early and making sure there are easy transfer options for displaced students.

This story has been updated.


Emily is WUWM's educational reporter.
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