MILWAUKEE — Imagine being accepted to your dream college, only to find out it’s closing.

That’s what happened to hundreds of students this spring when Cardinal Stritch announced it would shut down permanently at the end of the semester.

“I was flabbergasted, and I was so surprised because I never thought that would happen,” said 18-year-old Valarie Vincent, who would have started her freshman year at Stritch this fall. “I had no idea what to do and I don’t like that feeling of not knowing what to do.”

The high school senior had already gone through the process of getting as many grants and scholarship opportunities as possible at the college she thought would prepare her for a future career in nursing.

Like dozens of small, private colleges in the state and country, Cardinal Stritch has battled drastic enrollment declines in recent years.

In the 2010-2011 school year, enrollment was at a solid 4,200. This year, that number dropped to 1,122. Its projected deficit would have been $6 million by the end of July.

“I started to rethink everything,” Vincent said. “I thought maybe I should take a gap year, maybe I shouldn’t even go into nursing, or maybe I should apply to schools outside of the state.”

Luckily, none of that needed to happen for Vincent. Things came full circle when the first college she toured and almost committed to came back to support her when she needed it most.

“I’m so thankful that Mount Mary was there for me, and I know they’ll keep being there for me,” she said.

Vincent enrolled at Mount Mary University and will move into her campus dorm on June 1. She said when initially picking between the two schools, she chose Stritch for financial reasons.

It offered her more scholarships and grants than Mount Mary initially did, Vincent said.

And for a student who is footing her college tuition and bills herself, that made all the difference.

“I’m kind of a workaholic,” she said. “I work about 30 hours per week and college is coming out of my pocket.”

Mount Mary is not matching financial aid for Stritch students, but it is matching student out-of-pocket costs.

“I’m still getting offered a good amount here, so I’m really fortunate,” Vincent said.

As Vincent toured her new college for the second time, she thought of Cardinal Stritch students and staff.

“When I first found out, I wasn’t just worried about myself, but all the other students,” Vincent said. “Some of my friends didn’t apply to a bunch of schools because Stritch was their school.”

Cardinal Stritch is the second private college in Wisconsin that has closed since the pandemic started. Holy Family College closed in 2020.