Webster’s Winghaven campus will close not close its doors for summer break in May. Instead, it will be closing forever. A decrease in enrollment has caused other campuses to meet this fate, as well.
Empty classrooms, scattered students and one less Webster University campus. Winghaven, one of Webster University’s four St. Louis area campuses, is shutting its doors on May 31. Winghaven is closing due to low enrollment.
Webster University’s headcount enrollment dropped 46.2% over the last five years – one of the biggest decreases of any independent university in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
The university decided to close Winghaven last spring, according to Brenda Russell, assistant director and academic advisor at the campus.
“There had been some talk about it for a year or so, just as other campuses in the network have closed in the past,” Russell said. “It wasn’t like picking on Winghaven or anything; it was just that the numbers were down.”
Webster University has closed 15 network campuses in the last 10 years, according to its archived website. They’re not alone in this struggle. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 48 Missouri colleges closed between 2014 and 2018. Four were private nonprofit, one was public and 43 were for-profit.
Webster University director of public relations Patrick Giblin explained that existing campuses have expanded and new campuses have opened in the last 10 years, despite the campus closings. Webster continually evaluates its campuses to determine if they are properly serving the community.
“This process carefully analyzes each location’s strategic viability and sustainability, particularly relating to the changing needs of the community where it operates,” Giblin said.
The university may decide to gradually cease operations at a campus if it can’t adapt to the clientele of the area, which is what happened to Winghaven.
At this point, the campus enters a “teach out” mode, Giblin said.
“During teach out, steps are taken to give students opportunities to complete their programs in a reasonable timeframe and to retain faculty and staff, when possible,” Giblin said.
Winghaven offered 58 total courses in the 2004 fall semester. In-person courses are no longer offered at the campus. Students either commute to the Westport or Gateway campus for class or choose an online option.
Students like undergraduate Glen Zahn will miss Winghaven for its convenient location and helpful staff. Zahn has attended the Winghaven campus for eight years.
“It’s pretty darn nice when you walk into a place and they know your name,” Zahn said. “It was very convenient – the campus was right across the street from my work and classes started not long after I got off.”
When Winghaven was at its highest enrollment, notable programs included nursing, business and cyber security. A majority of graduate students made up the student population.
Approximately 70 students were enrolled at Winghaven when the decision was made to shut it down. Zahn said most of his classes in the last year ranged from four to 10 students.
“It was not a complete surprise that Winghaven was closing,” Zahn said. “When I was there, there were not a whole lot of people there.”
When it opened 19 years ago, Winghaven hosted around 400 students.
Although the campus is shutting down, this is not the end for Winghaven students and faculty. The programs offered there will be available at other Webster campuses in the area.
“It’s a nice little campus and I think it served the area well,” Russell said. “It’s not that Webster won’t serve – they certainly will. It’s just that they’ll serve in a different way.