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Union Institute & University announces closure

Former Union Institute & University Headquarters in Walnut Hills
Zack Carreon
Union Institute & University Headquarters in Walnut Hills

Cincinnati-based Union Institute & University is closing.

In a statement shared with WVXU Wednesday, President Karen Schuster Webb and Vice President of Academic Affairs Tom Frederick announced the university — which has been open for 60 years — will close for good June 30.

Union Institute's Board of Trustees decided to dissolve the university this week after it voluntarily decided to resign its accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission.

The loss of accreditation means the largely online Union Institute is no longer eligible to receive financial aid, and every student would have to pay out-of-pocket or take out a private loan to attend the school. Even if enough students were willing to do that, without accreditation, the degrees they would earn would be considered invalid by many employers, licensing boards, and other colleges.

How Union got here

Union Institute's closure comes after a turbulent year for the university. In early 2023, university employees claimed they weren't being paid and were asked by the school's leaders to continue working without pay.

RELATED: Union Institute & University placed on 'administrative probation' by accreditor

From the beginning, employees called into question Union's financial transparency, claiming they had been left in the dark and blindsided by the university's financial issues. As the months went by, workers said President Webb and university leaders continued to mislead and encourage them to stay, knowing the school didn't have the money to pay them adequately.

By that summer, students began to claim their federal student loan refunds were missing and they couldn't get a straight answer from the university about where their money went. In emails obtained by WVXU, the school's leadership team admitted it used the student loan refunds to pay a small number of full-time employees.

The missing paychecks and student refunds loan led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, which dropped a nearly $4.3 million fine on the university for its misuse of funds.

Additionally, several Union Institute employees filed lawsuits against the school, President Webb, and the Board of Trustees. One lawsuit led to a financial settlement, while another federal lawsuit is still in the courts.

WVXU reached out to Vice President Frederick for comment on the closure, but he said he was instructed not to speak on the matter.

RELATED: Union Institute & University employees reach settlement over unpaid wages

Union Institute was evicted from its headquarters in Walnut Hills and students and employees say the university hasn't really been operating since the 2023 spring semester. Its loss of accreditation and closure is only a formality.

The college has established teach-out arrangements approved by its accreditor with Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts.

In Union's farewell statement, President Webb and VP Frederick said, "We leave knowing that we have made our mark on the higher education world."

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.