image of flower shrubs and landscaping in front of McLean Chapel at Holy Names University
View of McLean Chapel in the center of the Holy Names University campus, Oakland, CA, Fall 2010. Credit: Holy Names University

Meisha Fogle was one semester away from earning her teaching credential and completing her master’s degree in education from Holy Names University last December, when school leaders announced that the 155-year-old private college in the Oakland hills would be closing in May 2023 following the spring semester. 

Fogle didn’t think she’d be impacted. But due to a late-semester illness and some confusion over class registration in her final semester, she was unable to complete her degree. 

Several months later, Fogle, who recently moved her family to Antioch due to the high cost of living in Oakland, is among hundreds of former Holy Names students in the East Bay who are now unsure about their academic future.

“Holy Names was a very good spot for me, being a mother,” Fogle told The Oaklandside. “It was a very small setting, close to my job, my home, and my kids’ school.” 

Both Holy Names University and Mills College, which was acquired last year by Northeastern University, operated schools of education that graduated dozens of students each year, many of whom would go on to teach in East Bay schools. The recent loss of both programs means prospective teachers in Oakland will now have to travel outside of the city for their education, to campuses such as  CSU Hayward, UC Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, or Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

The abrupt closure of Holy Names University and the loss of the education program at Mills also comes at a time when Oakland Unified and other school districts are struggling to hire qualified teachers. 

“It makes it more difficult for beginning teachers or people [in Oakland] who want to be teachers,” said Kimberly Mayfield, the former dean of the education program at Holy Names, about the program closures. “To work all day and drive to San Francisco or Hayward, or even Belmont, is an additional stressor and it will deter some people who would be really outstanding candidates for our children in the Oakland public schools.”

Will students get to keep their scholarships?

A major factor that led Fogle and other teacher candidates to choose Holy Names University was the Logan Fund, which awarded scholarships to educators who’d commit to teaching in urban school districts like Oakland Unified. The scholarships, administered through the university’s endowment, would pay for half of the student’s tuition. 

Now that Fogle and other students aren’t able to attend Holy Names, they’re asking the university to let them use the scholarship money to continue their educations at other schools. Earlier this year, students wrote a letter to Attorney General Rob Bonta urging him to protect their Logan scholarship money. In May, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and City Attorney Barbara Parker also wrote a letter to Bonta requesting that the university’s $55 million endowment remain committed to supporting “education in Oakland.”

“A big part of being able to complete school is the money,” Fogle said. “Oakland is in crisis with a teacher shortage, like many other districts in California. We can’t afford to lose teachers because teachers can’t afford to become teachers.”

Sam Singer, a spokesman for Holy Names, shared with The Oaklandside on Tuesday that the university has filed a petition in state court to allow “more than 350” students to continue receiving scholarships, including Logan Fund scholarships, to complete their programs at other schools. The attorney general’s office has reviewed it, according to the university, and the petition is awaiting final approval from the state.

“Our goal is that our endowment continues to support the long-term dreams and educational journeys of students from the communities we have long served,” said Holy Names University board chair Steven Borg in a statement. “We are grateful for the support of the community as we work to ensure our endowment serves those communities for decades to come.”

Fewer local options for aspiring educators

Fogle, who also teaches at Aspire Triumph Technology Academy as an intern, was hospitalized for two weeks at the end of the spring semester, which meant she couldn’t complete all the program requirements for her degree in the spring. Trying to register for classes during the spring semester while also figuring out which classes would transfer to other institutions was also chaotic, Fogle said.

She’s since transferred to the University of San Francisco, which is opening an East Bay hub in Oakland to serve those who came from Holy Names University, and she expects to graduate in May 2024.

Mayfield, the former dean, said students in the school of education were encouraged prior to the closure to meet with counselors from Notre Dame de Namur, USF, and CSU East Bay.

“I think students were experiencing a high level of anxiety and disorientation because the school was closing,” Mayfield said. “I don’t think they got the level of support that they would’ve needed for the majority to have seamless transfers.”

Mayfield, who left the school in February to join Thao’s office as deputy mayor, said the losses of education schools at Holy Names and Mills will have a negative impact on the teacher pipeline in Oakland. About 220 students were enrolled in Holy Names’ education school last year, and 160 to 170 were earning a teaching credential, Mayfield said. Many of those teachers would then go on to schools in Oakland Unified, West Contra Costa Unified, and Hayward Unified school districts. 

“With our teaching candidates, many of them grew up in Oakland or around Oakland, and they know the culture of the city,” Mayfield said. “Having a program that was easily accessible really removed a barrier of access to the credentialing process for them.”

Earlier this year, the school’s property, which spans 60 acres in the Oakland hills, was purchased by a Los Angeles real estate firm, which said it is committed to keeping the property for educational purposes. 

Mayfield is interested in bringing a historically Black college or university (HBCU) to the Oakland campus, which she believes could bolster the city’s declining Black population

“We think an HBCU would have the interest of Oakland youngsters in mind and also attract youngsters throughout the state and region,” she said.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.