Struggling Birmingham-Southern College says it will close at end of May

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A clock tower stands in front of several buildings at Birmingham Southern College.

Zoe McDonald, WBHM

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Birmingham-Southern College, a private liberal arts college in Alabama, will close at the end of May after running into financial difficulties and being unable to secure a financial lifeline from the state, officials announced Tuesday.

The College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to close the longtime institution, officials announced in a news release. The announcement came after legislation, aimed at securing a taxpayer-backed loan for the 168-year-old private college, had recently stalled in the Alabama Statehouse.

“This is a tragic day for the College, our students, our employees, and our alumni,” the Rev. Keith D. Thompson, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said in a statement from the college. “But it is also a terrible day for Birmingham, for the neighborhoods who have surrounded our campus for more than 100 years, and for Alabama.”

The college of about 1,000 students is located on the west side of Birmingham, one of Alabama’s principal cities. The college had run into financial difficulties over a series of years. Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the college’s bonds.

The private college had hoped to secure a financial lifeline from the state. The Alabama Legislature created a loan program last year to provide financial help to distressed colleges, but state Treasurer Young Boozer denied the school’s loan application.

New legislation was introduced this year. The college said in a news release that conversations with House leadership “confirmed that the bill did not have enough support to move forward.”

Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin said news of the closure is “disappointing and heartbreaking to all of us who recognize it as a stalwart of our community.”

“I’ve stood alongside members of our City Council to protect this institution and its proud legacy of shaping leaders. It’s frustrating that those values were not shared by lawmakers in Montgomery,” Woodfin said Tuesday.

The school dates to 1856, when Southern University was founded in Greensboro, Alabama. That school merged with Birmingham College in 1918 to become Birmingham-Southern, with a campus west of downtown Birmingham.

Small private colleges nationwide are struggling with a declining number of traditional college-aged students and competition from larger, richer institutions. Judson College, a women’s college, shuttered its campus in Marion in 2021.

 

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