Cautionary Tale: NCAA Division Two Institution Closing at End of Academic Year

Citing “years of mounting financial challenges, and a challenging and changing educational landscape,” Concordia University Portland, a private NCAA division two institution, is shutting down at the end of the academic year. The Board of Regents voted to close the university on February 7th after 115 years in operation.

CU-Portland’s 13 teams compete in D2’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) and will continue to finish out their seasons throughout the rest of the year. Student athletes will be able to transfer and avoid sitting out a year by using the discontinued/non-sponsored sport exception.

There are 319 active division two institutions, in which 165 are private schools. Private schools are in a shrinking enrollment crisis that much of higher education is experiencing. With only approximately 1,500 undergraduates, according to federal data, CU-Portland was especially susceptible to enrollment problems moving forward.

Interestingly enough, as HEA will outline in an upcoming report, institutions this size could use athletics to drive enrollment for the entire institution.

With around 350 student athletes, CU-Portland could have possibly used athletics to increase or at least sustain enrollment, which they may have discussed internally. The GNAC sponsors football, albeit with only four schools, but that would have been well over 100 additional undergraduate students. Some might say that’d be an expensive investment in upstart costs and hiring a coaching staff, but division two uses a partial scholarship model where institutional financial aid helps offset athletic scholarship costs. Another route could have been adding junior varsity teams or simply expanding rosters of existing teams, both of which have become a trend at the division two and three levels.

It will be interesting to see how the GNAC reacts to Concordia’s closure. Last fall, both division two University of Alaska System schools, each members of the GNAC, faced financial exigency due to extreme budget cuts from the Governor, which left both athletic departments unsure of what the future holds.

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