JFK University announces closure, most programs moving to other institutions

JFK University announces closure

Despite mainly online offerings, president says there will still be a local presence.

After more than 60 years in Central Contra Costa County, John F. Kennedy University will close all operations by Dec. 31 and transfer most of its programs to other institutions.

“JFK is a small liberal arts school and has had the same survival challenges as other such schools around the country. The operating cost associated with the university has been a drag on the advancement of the programs,” president Thomas Stewart said. “So by eliminating that and moving those programs to more stable institutions that have the resources to grow them, I feel like an unselfish parent. I can’t give them what others can.”

JFKU opened as a “commuter school” in Martinez in 1965 to provide lifelong learning and prepare working adults for new careers. Enrollment grew to more than 1,800, but there are currently about 1,350 students.

“Our goal is to retain the vast majority of them,” said Stewart, who intends to stay on during the transition. JFK plans to hold Zoom meetings with students to answer specific questions and address individual situations.

“Most people when they hear the word closure, what comes to mind are some of the more tragic experiences where their doors shut abruptly. The best thing those institutions could do was give them a free copy of their transcript,” Stewart told the Pioneer. “We are committed to doing this as gracefully as possible.”

Working within the National University System

In order to gain more financial stability, JFKU became an affiliate of the National University System (NUS) in 2009. “The NUS has given JFK the level of support that most small universities, particular in California, don’t have,” Stewart said.

JFK’s psychology and law degrees – the school’s flagship programs – are among those being integrated into other NUS programs. The graduate psychology programs will be offered at National University, while the JFK law program will carry on at Northcentral University as the JFK School of Law at NCU.

“We think we can preserve them. We think we can grow them,” Stewart said.

National University, based in San Diego, has multiple campuses with about 16,000 students and 70 degree programs. Northcentral is an online graduate institution also located in San Diego, with 12,000 students. “It’s important to know we are all non-profit universities,” Stewart told the Pioneer.

JFK aims to have as many students as possible graduate by December. Going forward, all current students will receive tuition discounts. Meanwhile, Stewart said JFK will “go through a very meticulous process to bring our faculty over to the new institutions.”

One student’s experience

For Concord resident Robyn Kuslits, the transition will mark the end of her time at JFK.

Kuslits, who served in the Navy 2006-’14, says her Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits won’t be enough if she attends a fully online college. So along with the stress of upcoming finals, the first-year law student has to worry about transferring before fall.

Kuslits decided to become a lawyer after working for a local non-profit and seeing the need for legal services.

“I chose JFK for a few reasons,” she said. “I like the small class sizes. I like that it’s a local college, and it had a good reputation in the community.

“The experience has been great,” she added. “The professors there are outstanding. I love my classmates.”

A veterans’ representative at JFK told Kuslits there is a chance the VA benefit could be permanently increased due to the coronavirus.

“But I don’t want to stake my next two years of college with Congress being able to get that done,” he said. “It’s just a big unknown. It would be a shame to miss out when I’m doing so well right now.”

Fate of Pleasant Hill campus

JFK currently has 25,000-30,000 sq. ft. at its Pleasant Hill campus, along with what Stewart calls “a modest presence” in San Jose.

“We will have to customize the Pleasant Hill facilities. We definitely won’t need all of the campus space we currently have,” Stewart said. “We will most likely use a portion of the campus, or it’s conceivable we will find another location in closer proximity to BART.”

The school will move to 80 percent online courses once the current shelter in place order is lifted. “Psychology will primarily be an on-ground program,” he noted. “We will continue to have a really strong presence in the East Bay, particularily for our counseling programs – clinical programs in housing and elderly law.”

Stewart said the shift to all online courses due to the coronavirus pandemic was “a big factor” in the decision to close.

“It wasn’t the sole factor. But in light of our history, it forced us to make a decision about what’s the best path forward,” he said. “And given the fact that we’d already started to make significant investments online, it was almost a no-brainer to continue that. We believe on the other side of the pandemic, most institutions of high learning will have to continue offering online, whether they wanted to or not.”

For more information on JFK University, visit jfku.edu.

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