Major Implications of St. John’s Staten Island Campus Closure: An In-depth Look

Opinion | Why Closing St. John’s Staten Island Campus Is a Big Deal

Imminent Closure of Staten Island Campus of St. John’s University

The first day teaching as an adjunct professor at a new university can be daunting: finding your way around campus, struggling to get access to web servers, office space and copiers — to say nothing of the ghastly compensation you receive for your labor. However, on a bright spring day in April 2022, my arrival at the Staten Island satellite campus of St. John’s University was different. The warm, tight-knit community on this small campus welcomed me with open arms, making me feel that I belonged.

Unfortunately, this sense of belonging was short-lived. The university president, the Rev. Brian Shanley, announced in August 2022, that due to declining enrollment rates, the board of trustees had unanimously voted to close the Staten Island campus by the end of the academic year in 2024. The closure will occur as planned, after the completion of classes this spring. Students have the option to move to the Queens campus.

The Nationwide Trend of University Campus Closures

This closure may seem like an isolated New York story, but it is part of a broader national trend. Over the past few years, declining enrollments and economic challenges have forced many higher education institutions to either merge campuses or shut their doors. Between 2016 and 2023, more than 91 colleges closed, including 15 in 2023 alone. Nearly half of these institutions were, like St. John’s, religiously affiliated. The closure of the Staten Island campus is a gloomy harbinger of what’s to come for other small campuses that offer students a truly communal and intimate learning experience.

St. John’s University: A Beacon of Socially Minded Catholic Education

Founded in Brooklyn in 1870 by the Vincentian Fathers, St. John’s University aimed to offer a socially minded Catholic education in the tradition of the priestly community’s founder, St. Vincent de Paul. Although initially catering to Catholic students from the metropolitan area, the university broadened its student base over time. The Staten Island campus, established in 1971, primarily served students from Brooklyn and Staten Island. These students, largely commuters, appreciated the ability to receive a college education close to their local communities, reflecting the culture and values of Staten Island.

Challenges for Small Colleges and Impact on Students

Rob Franek, editor in chief of The Princeton Review, warns that the state of small colleges is unlikely to improve. He cites challenges such as the impending enrollment cliff in 2025 due to a decrease in the U.S. population of 18-year-olds, as well as small colleges’ heavy dependency on tuition income. Furthermore, the closure of institutions like St. John’s represents a significant loss for students. Small colleges are renowned for offering excellent liberal arts education in highly supportive, tightly knit environments – qualities that may become increasingly rare in the future.

Implications for Community and Education

The closure of the Staten Island campus not only affects students but also educators and staff. I found myself socially immersed in the campus community in a way that larger campuses seldom offer. The loss of such campuses presents more than just a shift in market dynamics. It threatens to erode the fostering of meaningful human bonds and experiences in favor of market-driven ideals, particularly in light of the increasing corporatization of universities.

While economic efficiency and resource availability are important factors, they should not overshadow the value of small, community-focused campuses. Many students and educators thrive in these intimate settings, and the loss of such environments could have long-term implications for the quality and experience of higher education. As we see a rise in burnout, depression, and suicide on college campuses, it is worth questioning whether prioritizing efficiency and sustainability is indeed sustainable in the long run.