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Cabrini Closing – A Sign of Things To Come?

In a growing trend in higher education, Villanova University announced this week its plans to acquire and absorb the Cabrini University campus so it can house its law school. Cabrini will cease operations after the 2023-2024 school year and close a chapter on the Philadelphia University that saw unprecedented success with its Men’s Lacrosse program. Cabrini closing came as a shock to some, but no so much to others.

The sale comes as Cabrini has lost nearly half of its student population, especially in its graduate student population. The school had 1,235 full-time undergraduate students, 61 percent of them women, as of its most recent published filing with the U.S. Department, through the 2021-22 academic year. Of that population nearly ¼ were student athletes.

Cabrini Closing – A Sign of Things To Come?

An NCAA tournament staple for the last two decades, Cabrini has had unprecedented success as they have won an astonishing 22 consecutive conference titles and have positioned them at the top of Division III for the last decade. This culminated with the 2019 National Title, which is the only team National Championship the University has won. The Cavalier men’s team went 14-5 in 2023 and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Cabrini has posted a winning record every year since 2001 and has also gone undefeated in conference play every year since 2001.

Along with the news of the Cabrini closing, Men’s Head Coach Steve Colfer has stepped down as coach and accepted a head position at the Episcopal Academy (Pa.). This ends one of the most successful coaching runs in NCAA Lacrosse history as Colfer currently sits in the top 5 of all Divisions in terms of winning percentage and wins total.

The Cabrini’s women’s team was 14-6 in 2023 and also lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Head coach Jackie Neary, who has led the team since 1997, has just one losing season on her resume and has gone 207-9 in conference play.

Cabrini now joins a long list of colleges that have been either shut or bought because of financial issues and decreasing enrollments. In the past year we saw Cazenovia and Medaille shut their doors due to economic issues. These announcements will continue to occur and fall in line with decreasing enrollments across the country due to many reasons that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The decreasing birth rate in the post 2008 recession will force colleges to fight for less students and can lead to more institutional closures and mergers.

Cabrini Closing – A Sign of Things To Come?

The closure of Cabrini is a bittersweet one, as the Cavaliers join Dowling College as two former National Championship programs whose institutions closed. The landscape of higher education is changing as a whole and not just in athletics. While college athletics has seen a huge boom in offerings in the last two decades, it has put tremendous pressure on programs to be an even bigger extension of the admissions office.

The athletic model has become prevalent with a lot of Division II and III institutions and has become a huge money-making tool to attract potential student athletes. The average roster size has increased dramatically along with the pressure from institutions to coaches to fill those empty beds. This has caused an exodus of great coaches across all sports because the expectations, pressure, and lack of resources burn them out. Will this trend continue? The smart money says yes.