STATEN ISLAND — St. John’s University’s Staten Island campus will shut its doors in 2024, following a 63% drop in enrollment over 22 years, which could have fallen even further, off a “demographic cliff ” expected across the U.S. in the future, officials said.
The university announced on Friday, Aug. 12, that the Grymes Hill campus, which celebrated 50 years in 2021, would close. St. John’s president Father Brian Shanley said in a statement that the school’s board of trustees had been studying the move “simultaneously” with the 50th anniversary year.
The board finally voted on Aug. 2 to authorize the administration to begin a phase-out process. Father Shanley said he was announcing the move with a heavy heart. The notice was sent first to students, faculty, administrators, and staff.
Angela Paolino, a Staten Island native, is about to start her senior year on the campus. She learned about the closing in a group chat with her sorority, Phi Eta Chi.
“Then everybody was blowing up my phone,” said Paolino on Monday, Aug. 15. “It was devastating. I wasn’t really expecting it.”
Paolino, a pre-law student, said the news moved some of her friends to tears.
“One of them works in one of the offices, so it was really upsetting for her,” she said.
Father Shanley said in his own statement that the decision to close the Staten Island campus was not done in haste, but with “prayerful reflection.”
It also involved an “extensive examination of historic and continuing population trends.” The president said he was “deeply aware of the lasting impact St. John’s has had — and continues to have — on the local Staten Island community.” He noted the campus’s origins as Notre Dame College of Staten Island before it became part of St. John’s University five decades ago.
“Unfortunately,” Father Shanley said, “the Staten Island campus has experienced steady decreases in enrollment for decades that were the result of many factors and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Most notably, according to the announcement, was a drop in Catholic school enrollment on Staten Island “that had been a major feeder for new and prospective students.”
According to the announcement, “experts in higher education and population trends are uniformly anticipating a ‘demographic cliff ’ to begin in 2025 as the result of the decline in the U.S. birthrate that began in 2007 during the Great Recession.”
Consequently, these researchers expect to see “a dramatic and sustained drop in the traditional college-aged population,” which is “already being felt at the Staten Island campus,” the announcement stated.
For example, in Fall 2000, a total of 2,309 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at the Staten Island campus, which can accommodate 3,000 students. But by Fall 2021, enrollment on campus had fallen to 861 — a 63% reduction from 2000.
“We’re kind of looking at the long game,” added Brian Browne, St. John’s spokesman. “It’s not just a dwindling Catholic population, which is on the decline, but it’s a dwindling overall younger population.”
Father Shanley said the announcement’s timing was to give students “the fullest opportunity to deliberate about their future before the beginning of the fall semester” on Aug. 31. No freshmen will be admitted to the Staten Island campus starting in Fall 2023. Meanwhile, the university will implement a comprehensive academic plan, called a “teach-out,” designed to help students complete their degrees.
Father Shanley said the university will announce next month an endowed scholarship fund to support future Staten Island residents who enroll in Queens. There are no plans yet for the campus once St. John’s closes it, according to the announcement.
Paolino said school grounds are not the only things that will be shuttered. She explained her sorority is local, with no chap- ters anywhere else.
“We have been growing since 1945. But since our sorority is local only, it will not be continuing,” Paolino said. “We’re not a national sorority. That is very devastating because of how much work, effort, charity, and everything we’ve done.”
Still, Paolino, a graduate of Tottenville High School, said she is lucky because her class will graduate before the official closure the following year. “It’s just pretty sad for the lower classes,” she said.