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New Hampshire Institute of Art. Courtesy photo.




Higher ed merger
Two colleges seek to leverage resources

06/14/18



 By Scott Murphy

smurphy@hippopress.com
 
Come October, New England College in Henniker and the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester will be one.
After several months of discussion among college leadership, NEC and NHIA announced their intention to merge the two institutions to “enhance the delivery of academic programs and streamline administrative services.” The merger, which will require accreditation from the New Hampshire Department of Education and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, is expected to be completed by Oct. 1. 
Discussions of a potential merger began at a meeting of the New Hampshire College and University Council in Concord. Michele Perkins, president of NEC, mentioned to NHIA president Kent Devereaux that the two institutions might be able to collaborate on a new video game design program at NEC. 
“We quickly realized that we should look at a larger partnership,” said Devereaux. “From February onward, we had several confidential meetings between ourselves and our boards [of directors]. The more we looked at it, the more it made sense.”
 
More options for students
Increasing educational opportunities for students was a central reason behind the merger provided by both presidents. Once the merger is finalized, Devereaux said, students will be able to enroll in courses at both schools, allowing, for example, a business major to take a variety of art electives and a photography student to complete a business minor.
“There’s excellent synergy between our institutions. We have some overlap of programs, but it’s not completely redundant,” Perkins said. “We’ve had conversations about what new concentrations we could develop within other majors, given the breadth of programs and courses that don’t exist with either institution independently.”
The structure of student degree programs might vary. Students may choose to live at the NEC or NHIA residence halls depending on their major but take courses at the other campus or online. Perkins said students might also choose to study on one campus during the spring and fall semesters and take classes over the summer term either online or at the other school.
“Students have become much more sophisticated, and a big part of what’s making this possible is technology,” said Devereaux. “It’s no longer a matter of ‘I’m going to school online’ or ‘I’m going to a university.’ Students can do whatever is convenient for them. Michele and I both feel that as two small private colleges, we can work together to be more quick and nimble to evolve our curriculum in these ways.”
 
Pooling resources
According to Devereaux, each college will remain autonomous to an extent, with NEC ultimately acting as a “parent” organization for NHIA. Both he and Perkins cited the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover as an example of what the merged institution might resemble. 
Devereaux also pointed to several other regional examples of “small, tightly focused arts institutions evolving into a school within a larger college,” such as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University in Massachusetts; the Art Institute of Boston and Lesley University in Massachusetts; and the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
A significant reason for this trend is that smaller colleges can benefit financially by merging with a larger institution, according to Devereaux. As an example, Devereaux said that a larger pool of employees will lower costs for the colleges’ health care plan.
“We will be able to consolidate operational functions, including payroll, human resources, finance departments and admissions and phase this in over time,” said Perkins. “The economies that can be achieved with consolidating functions are significant.”
Meanwhile, enrollment is one area where NHIA will benefit from NEC’s institutional support. Devereaux said NEC has been very effective at growing its student body as well as international enrollment, which he sees as a growth opportunity for NHIA and a means of helping to build a diverse workforce in New Hampshire. 
“We want to attract students to come to New Hampshire and stay here,” Devereaux said. “That’s one of the reasons we require an internship for every single one of our students.”
 
Making it official
Both presidents stressed that an established structure for the new merged institution is still in progress, and further details will be released over the next several months. According to Devereaux, this upcoming year will be focused on integrating the colleges’ office systems and finding administrative efficiencies, and that functionally for students, “nothing is going to change this fall.” He added that the goal is for students to start enrolling in classes on both campuses by 2019, adding that “we might have cross registration for the spring semester, but almost certainly by the fall.”
In the meantime, Perkins said, the merger will need approval from the New Hampshire Department of Education’s Division of Higher Education and the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education at the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. She said the colleges have had conversations with both organizations, and official reports on the merger are in progress. 
Anthony Schinella, director of communications for the NHDOE, said the Higher Education Commission is expecting to receive materials from NHIA concerning the merger, after which the commission will approve or deny the application. He said the division leader from the department, Michael Seidel, has been working with both colleges on the merger proposal.
“Both institutions reached out to us about the merger, and we’re excited that they will be working together to create opportunities for students,” Frank Edelblut, the commissioner of the NHDOE, said in a statement. “This merger will put their institutions on solid financial footing, and we look forward to continuing to work with them through the regulatory process.”
Barbara E. Brittingham, president of NEASC’s Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, said the commission hopes to consider the merger at its meeting in September, but the colleges’ application will need approval from the Department of Education before it will be reviewed by NEASC. She doesn’t see any obvious barriers for the merger going through and cited some similar mergers approved recently by the commission, including Wheelock College and Boston University in Massachusetts as well as Johnson State College and Lyndon State College in Vermont. 
“The two presidents have been in touch, and we had a good phone conversation where they explained their process and due diligence,” said Brittingham. “They have complementary missions, and the merger seems like a benefit to both institutions and their students.” 





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