Willamette University, a private college in Oregon, has announced plans to take over Pacific Northwest College of Art, in a move to save the struggling institution.

Three years ago, Willamette University revealed its plans to acquire Claremont School of Theology, but the process has yet to be complete due to regulatory approval pending, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Despite this, Willamette University hopes the plans to merge with Pacific Northwest College of Art, which is located 45 miles from its main campus, will be smoother.

The art college has faced significant financial challenges, like many other art colleges, and has struggled to grow its student enrolment, it was reported. It has also faced hardship as a result of the pandemic, which forced higher education institutions to close their doors.

No money will be exchanged as part of the agreement, Stephen Thorsett, president of Willamette University, reportedly said.

When the merger happens, Willamette University will take over both the assets and liabilities of the art college, including its existing debt.
“They have enough tuition and gift revenue to support their operations and contribute to the general overhead of running the university,” Thorsett said.

“That’s partly because the merger allows the elimination of duplicate costs. You only need one audit every year. Insurance is less expensive for the combined organization. There are no longer separate accreditation fees.”

Pacific Northwest College of Art had more than $19 million in long-term debt at the end of the 2018 fiscal year, according to Inside Higher Ed. It reported about $14.3 million in revenue and $16.5 million in total expenses that year. In comparison, Willamette University recorded $96.5 million in revenue and $93 in expenses that same year.

Pacific Northwest College of Art will become part of Willamette University under the merger but will retain its name, identity and campus. It will operate largely independently from Willamdette University, which currently has three colleges.

Thorsett said there would be no staff changes for at least a year, despite programme overlaps.

Pacific Northwest College of Art enrolls 647 students and has 121 faculty members. Willamette currently has 2,179 students and 247 staff.

The chair of the Pacific Northwest College of Art’s board, Scott Musch, said the decision to enter into discussions with Willamette, which began seven months ago, was “strategic” and “intentional”.

“The board was decisive in making the determination that this path was the best one forward for the college’s future,” he said.

Date published: 21 September 2020

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