By Paul Black
JACKSONVILLE – The Board of Trustees of MacMurray College announced March 27 it will close at the end of the spring semester in May 2020, ending a 174-year history in higher education.
Charles O’Connell, chair of the Board of Trustees, said the Board voted unanimously to close after extensive analysis and consideration, reaching the conclusion that the school “had no viable financial path forward,” with declining enrollments, rising competitive costs and a small endowment. He noted that alumni had been generous in a recent fundraising drive, but that it was not sufficient to reverse trends.
The Board thanked MacMurray College President Dr. Beverly Rodgers for her leadership since being appointed to the job in 2019.
"Our students remain our top priority," Dr. Rodgers said. "Faculty and staff have gone the extra mile in transferring all our classes to online and remote learning formats — practically overnight." She said that MacMurray has signed transfer agreements for its current students with seven area colleges. "We will assist all students in their transfer needs, helping them ensure they are able to complete their degrees. We will also support our faculty and staff in their transitions to other positions."
The coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic disruption were recent factors that complicated MacMurray's financial condition, but they are not the principal reasons for the Board's decision to close, according to O'Connell.
The college currently has 527 full-time students and 101 faculty and staff. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students already have moved off campus and are taking classes online. The college has not decided whether or not to hold its commencement ceremony as scheduled on May 9.
Students not eligible for graduation in May will be referred to a partner institution to complete their degree. The college has negotiated transfer agreements for its students at Blackburn College, Eureka College, Greenville University, Illinois College, McKendree University, Millikin University and Monmouth College.
The college was founded in 1846 by Methodist clergy as the Illinois Conference Female Academy. It is one of the oldest colleges originally for women in the United States and one of the oldest liberal arts colleges in Illinois.
The name was changed in 1899 to Illinois Woman’s College. In 1913, the college was granted accreditation. The name was changed again in 1930 to MacMurray College for Women.
Foreseeing the coming baby boom, the college’s board of trustees established MacMurray College for Men in 1955. The men’s and women’s colleges merged in 1969.
O’Connell said the pandemic and subsequent economic disruption were factors that complicated the college’s recent financial position but were not the main reasons for the closure.
The status of the college’s 60-acre campus, located on the east side of Jacksonville, was not immediately clear. The archive collection of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church is located on campus at Pfeiffer Library. Conference officials will be exploring potential sites to relocate the collection in the near future.
MacMurray alumni include two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole; former baseball major leaguers Mark Clark and Bill Sampen; Pulitzer Award-winning journalist Raymond Bonner; singer Judy Collins; former NFL kicker Olindo Mare and actor Rick Hall.