Holy Names University in Oakland will close after spring semester in 2023 due to declining enrollment and other struggles, officials with the 154-year-old school said this week.

Students will have the option to continue studies at Dominican University of California and graduate on schedule, and the school said faculty and staff will have the chance to work at its San Rafael campus.

Holy Names said in a statement the school has struggled to remain open as it faced rising operational costs, declining enrollment, and an increased need for institutional scholarships. It said both COVID-19 and an economic downturn disproportionately impacted HNU students.

The school already halted its sports programs last spring and gave notice to staff and other employees, some effective at the end of January or early February.

“We have been doing our best to find a partner to keep the university functioning and continue HNU’s mission,” said HNU Board Chairperson Steven Borg, in a statement. “While we’ve had interest in long-term collaboration from potential partners, we do not have the type of interest that would sustain HNU in continuing to offer its own programs and services, so we are forced to make the difficult decision to close and designate a transfer institution in the best interest of our students.”

“First and foremost, ensuring HNU students will be able to continue their academic path forward is our top priority,” Borg said. “We are also doing everything in our power to support our faculty and staff during this period of uncertainty.”

Trying for a seamless transition

Holy Names said students who complete their degree requirements by the end of the spring semester, or are currently progressing in the school’s graduate nursing programs, will be able to graduate from Holy Names.

Dominican University of California and Holy Names have formalized an agreement by which academic programs at Holy Names will transfer seamlessly to Dominican after the spring term and accreditation body approvals.

Students will have the option to continue their studies at Dominican and complete their degree requirements on-schedule. Where possible, Dominican will also ensure that members of Holy Names’ faculty and staff are considered for similar roles on its San Rafael campus.

Holy Names is in discussions with other institutions on sustaining the Kodaly Music Program. The Raskob Learning Institute and Day School will either operate independently or in partnership with a new institution after this school year.

“While we’ve had interest in long-term collaboration from potential partners, we do not have the type of interest that would sustain HNU … so we are forced to make the difficult decision to close and designate a transfer institution in the best interest of our students.”

Steven Borg, NHU board chairperson

There are 520 undergraduates and 423 graduate students currently enrolled at Holy Names. This number for spring 2023 has significantly declined as students struggle to make tuition payments or are uncertain about the university’s future. Currently 449 students total are registered for spring.

Officials said the college explored mergers, but found other schools had many of the same issues. Bord said, “There is not only $49 million in debt on HNU’s property, but as a 65-year-old campus the costs of deferred maintenance and compliance upgrades could be over $200 million. That is a large undertaking for any college or university.”

“The financial situation of the university changed dramatically this fall,” Borg said. “It was a herculean effort to find a path to the spring semester and allow HNU an orderly end. This included the procurement of additional financial resources, and collaboration with Dominican. I am so grateful to members of the university cabinet, staff, and faculty, our advisors, and my fellow trustees.”

Holy Names University is a fully accredited, Roman Catholic, co-educational university. Founded by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in 1868, HNU offers a liberal arts and professional education to prepare a diverse student body for productive lives of leadership and service.

The university was originally established as the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in 1868 by six members of the Sisters of the Holy Names, a teaching order from Quebec, Canada. The original site of the convent was on the shores of Lake Merritt. In 1957 the school moved to its present location in the Oakland hills.