Northeastern University in talks with Mills College over potential acquisition

Four months after taking the first steps towards eventual closure, Mills College may have found a new path to survival.

Northeastern University announced last week that its executives were in talks to acquire Mills, a women’s college in Oakland, California. As a result of the deal, Mills would become Mills College at Northeastern University and continue to award undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The acquisition would be a lifeline for Mills, who has failed to remain financially solvent amid declining enrollments, budget deficits and faculty turmoil. The college announced in March that it would stop admitting new students and planned to complete its last class in 2023, signaling its likely closure.

Northeastern should also benefit from the potential acquisition. Over the past decade, the private Boston-area nonprofit university has grown rapidly and currently operates nine satellite campuses. Mills would become the 10th Northeastern campus and the third location in California. The northeast sprawl could serve the university well in the future, when higher education leaders expect a significant drop in student numbers in the northeastern and midwestern regions of the states. -United.

The deal would be a win-win for Mills and Northeastern, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at the American Council of Education.

“Northeastern has sought to increase its presence across the country, and Mills is keen to preserve the institution,” Hartle said. “I think this has the potential to be extremely beneficial for both institutions.”

The presidents of the two institutions cited shared values ​​as the main driver of the acquisition talks.

“Recognized for its preeminence in women’s leadership, access, equity and social justice, Mills College has been a mainstay of educational opportunity for over a century,” Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern, said in a press release. “Northeastern’s story and enduring focus on including and empowering people from all walks of life to be successful in their studies and throughout their lives is a perfect fit with Mills and his ideals.” .

Elizabeth Hillman, president of Mills, echoed Aoun’s words in his own ad.

“The Board of Trustees authorized negotiations with Northeastern University because its leadership understands and supports the vital contributions offered by Mills, and because we share a vision for what education can and should be like in the decades to come. “Hillman said in a statement.

Being part of Northeastern would require Mills’ undergraduate programs to become co-ed. Currently, the undergraduate college only admits cisgender and transgender women as well as fluent or non-binary students. The Mills College board first voted in favor of a coeducational institution two decades ago, but overturned the decision after two weeks of strikes and protests by students and faculty.

The college’s graduate programs already admit students of all genders.

Not everyone is happy with the potential announcement of an acquisition. Since Mills announced its closure earlier this year, several alumni groups – including the Save Mills College Coalition, the UC Mills Campaign, and the Alumnae Association of Mills College – have mobilized to save the college as a independent institution. Alumni fear that an acquisition by Northeastern could turn the liberal arts college into a research-driven institution. They are also frustrated with the lack of public information on Mills’ current financial condition.

“It’s not a done deal. We haven’t lost the battle. The school is still viable. I think we have to fight and we have to fight like hell,” said Nan Roche, graduate of Mills in 1975, in a press release.

At a recent town hall organized by the Save Mills College Coalition and the UC Mills Campaign, 46 percent of attendees said they were against the acquisition proposal. Another 42 percent said they did not have enough information to make a decision and 11 percent expressed support for the proposal.

Neither institution has disclosed financial details of the potential acquisition. It’s not clear whether Northeastern will retain all existing Mills employees under the deal, but Hillman said Northeastern plans to fund increases for Mills employees.

“Northeastern understands the importance for Mills to receive financial support to cover her operating expenses and to enable Mills to offer salary increases to staff and faculty,” she said in her statement. declaration.

Northeastern University’s new Mills College would also honor Mills’ student financial aid programs. Northeastern also plans to expand its tuition rebate program – which covers the tuition fees of employees and their eligible dependents who are admitted to Northeastern degree programs – to Mills employees.

Mills students would have the option of continuing their education at Mills or moving to Northeastern.

Spokesmen for Northeastern and Mills declined to share any further information on the ongoing negotiations.

The potential deal is unusual, but not unheard of, Hartle said. Most often, institutions acquire other colleges and universities located nearby. For example, Delaware State University will acquire Wesley College, which is just a four-minute drive away. Boston University acquired Wheelock College, another private college in Boston, in 2017. Bridgeport University in Connecticut was recently absorbed into Goodwin University and nearby Paier College.

Like Northeastern, some colleges have sought to develop further. Middlebury College, a private liberal arts college in Vermont, signed an affiliation agreement with the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California in 2005, and subsequently designated the Monterey Institute as a top school of Middlebury College.

The background to Middlebury’s acquisition of the Monterey Institute was similar to the ongoing deal between Northeastern and Mills – the institute was in financial difficulty and had been looking for a partner for several years. Middlebury was looking to expand its language and cultural programs focused on Asia, an area where Monterey excelled.

It’s likely that more and more small colleges like Mills will have to consider a merger or acquisition in the next few years, Hartle said.

“There is a lot of talk that this is the future of many small private institutions, especially those located in areas with declining populations,” he said.

John MacIntosh, Managing Partner of SeaChange Capital Partners, which manages the Transformational Partnership Fund, is an advocate for higher education mergers, acquisitions and partnerships. In a recent editorial for Inside higher education, he wrote about the need for federal investment in higher education partnerships that advance the sector.

“The ‘system’ of higher education is a decentralized and fragmented collection of public and private institutions, many of which are over 125 years old,” MacIntosh wrote. “The system is increasingly obsolete: some institutions are badly placed; some are too small; others need skills that they will be challenged to develop on their own.

He sees the potential deal with Northeastern-Mills as a victory for students at both institutions.

“It looks like it’s a good student-centered, student-centered partnership,” he said. “For current students, but also for future students, there will be more options than if these institutions did not come together.”

About Rachel Gooch

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