Massachusetts Colleges Consider Merging

Massachusetts Colleges Consider Merging

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Much has been made in the news lately about the pending demise of Sweet Briar College in Virginia. Indeed, that all-women college in local Virginia stunned students, faculty and alumnae earlier this month when the administration announced that the school would shutter its doors at the end of this academic year.

Sweet Briar College is not the only small college in trouble. Like many other schools, the Virginia institution is undercapitalized and has a declining enrollment. Dozens, perhaps many hundreds of other colleges and universities across the United States, may face a similar bleak future. But some are not waiting for a day of reckoning and are looking at ways to thrive or evolve.

Two Massachusetts Schools May Combine

One such school is Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, located about an hour’s drive north of Boston just across the Danvers River from Salem. Montserrat was established in 1970 as a private arts college offering Bachelor of Fine Art degrees in several disciplines. With just under 400 students enrolled, it is facing the same types of challenges that similar-sized institutions encounter.

Late last month, Montserrat College of Art (MCA) and Salem State University (SSU) issued a joint press release announcing that the two colleges were exploring the art school being absorbed by the university. Indeed, the presidents of both institutions explained that talks were in progress and stating, “we are excited by the potentially significant benefits of such an integration.” At present the two schools are performing due diligence whereby the boards of trustees are conducting feasibility studies.

Exploratory Process in Place

If the exploratory process continues, a decision would be rendered by July 2015. And if that decision recommends a merger, then the two Massachusetts institutions could become one effective for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Both presidents stated that the reason for publicly announcing this initiative is to “bring both communities into the discussions necessary to more thoroughly consider all implications of this proposal.” Those presidents are: Patricia Maguire Meservey of SSU and Stephen D. Immerman of MCA.

Both presidents also conceded that much work remains before moving beyond the exploratory phase. Indeed, the schools are quite different, but are located just 3.6 miles apart on state highway Highway 1A. SSU was founded in 1854 and counts more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. MCA has been in operation for just 45 years and serves art students only. However, the Beverly campus would most likely be retained.

Surviving by Evolving

Montserrat’s president noted the challenges of operating a small, private college and what the school’s future as part of a larger, public university would be. Said Immerman, “By joining Salem State, we believe that we can ensure that the Montserrat name and the college’s tradition of excellence and student-centered education will remain available for future generations of aspiring artists and designers.” SSU’s Meservey added, “this (MCA) would be a unique academic program on the North Shore, serving students who find their passion in the arts.”

Whether the two institutions join forces or not, both schools are demonstrating that consolidation is one option in the ever changing higher academia landscape. For MCA, it is a chance to survive. For SSU, an arts program broadens its academic offerings, what can enhance its position in the arena of higher education.

See AlsoSweet Briar College: End of the Line

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