On June 1, St. Joseph’s University formally merged with the University of Science, making the Crowstown campuses an institution named after St. Joseph.
For St. Joseph, absorbing the powerful suite of healthcare offers at the University of the Sciences could lead to an immediate expansion of academic programs based on the skills of faculty members already on campus.
For the University of Sciences, the agreement provides a continuum of financial challenges for students in recent years that have led both the Fitch rating and Moody’s Investor Service to downgrade the institution as its endowment funding has dwindled.
Now the two Philadelphia campuses have shared a joint mission. St. Joseph’s officials believe that such integration could become the new norm as higher education institutions face a number of challenges.
Mark Reid, president of St. Joseph’s, said the university’s strategic plans include looking for opportunities to expand its academic portfolio, which has made integration an attractive option.
“Now, we do that – as every organization would do – usually through increasing change, responding to market needs, and so on,” Reed said. “But considering the number of organizations in the area where we are located in Philadelphia, we were also very clear in our strategic plan to have the opportunity to do something bigger and bolder, such as consolidation or acquisition.” “
No money was exchanged to facilitate the merger, Reed noted, adding that “St. Joseph’s University is absorbing all the resources and all the liabilities of the University of Science.”
St. Joseph’s, a Jesuit college founded in 1851, has a rich history as a liberal art institution. The University of Sciences has long focused on healthcare professions. Founded in 1821, the University of Sciences was home to the first school of pharmacy in St. Joseph, USA, with more than 6,500 students, while the University of Sciences enrolled about 2,000.
Although St. Joseph already has some health-related programs, including various majors and an autism education and support center, it did not have a health care college. Now it does so with established, accredited programs in physical therapy, pharmacy and other fields.
Reed says there is also the possibility of new programs or interdepartmental growth.
But there was a certain degree of overlap between the two colleges – redundancy in certain cases. An example is athletics. St. Joseph has a Division I Athletics program, where the University of Science competes at the Division II level. NCAA’s inability to manage multiple athletic divisions at different levels of competition hurts St. Joseph’s Division II program.
“It would be impossible not to have some redundancies, given the fact that both institutions were very large, from top to bottom. So we had some annoyances in both academic stuffing and administrative stuffing, ”Reid explained.
St. Joseph retains 140 of the 170 faculty members, giving separation to those who have been released. And some employees have decided not to join St. Joseph because it is the responsibility of the University of Science. Staff decisions are still being made with a number of steps to be taken in the summer.
Outside of frustration, there have also been clashes of some cultures to navigate.
Before the merger was completed, some science university students expressed frustration to local media outlets that they would not be able to obtain birth control from St. Joseph, a Catholic institution. The University of Sciences said much in an email in late April: “Effective 6/1/2022, students will not be allowed to write or distribute birth control pills, birth control pills, or condoms of any kind once we merge with SJU.” Reading in part. “This is according to the Catholic doctrine which they strictly adhere to.”
But access to birth control seems to be an organizational issue, not a doctrinal issue.
“Students at St. Joseph’s can access birth control today, so students at St. Joseph’s University will be able to access birth control tomorrow. The university doesn’t distribute it, we don’t distribute it from a campus pharmacy. We don’t have a campus pharmacy, “said Reed.
The future of attachment
As St. Joseph navigates a new system, it will do so with a new interim president, Cheryl McConnell, who is currently the provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“This is an example of a merger / acquisition that is becoming much more common in higher education,” McConnell said. “We all know that small and specialized organizations continue to struggle. But it was not the unification of a university that was one step away from closing its doors, and it is unique in that way. I think it will become more ubiquitous in higher education in the future. And I think the path we’ve taken here can be effective for other organizations that are considering the same thing. “
Reid, who is leaving for Loyola University in Chicago in August, seconded the notion that such integration into higher education would become more common in the coming years. He encourages universities to be open to opportunities for such expansion if raised.
David King, a management professor at Florida State University who studies consolidation and acquisitions, cited some of the same benefits highlighted by St. Joseph’s officials. Such integration, he explained, provides the advantage of adding new academic programs immediately.
“The primary advantage of acquisitions is speed, or they immediately provide existing capabilities. Universities in similar locations usually differ, so local competitors can combine purchased complementary programs. Create qualified faculty to create a new academic program, design courses and get them recognized. It will take at least a few years, “King wrote via email.” This can be avoided by adding established programs. “
While often beneficial, mergers can also be risky, King said, adding that “most of the risks are due to mergers” as the two entities merge. Common challenges include turnover and the additional risk of running unfamiliar programs.
Integration can provide complementary academic programs, fixed cost efficiency and sustainability for college students, exchange capital partners (and a Inside higher ed Feedback contributors), which manages transformative partnership funds established by a number of higher organizations to help colleges explore collaborative options.
But integration can be difficult to navigate — and even pull off. For example, the University of Marymount California announced in April that it would close after a failed attempt to merge with St. Leo University. And even successful integration can be painful for those involved. When struggling Mills College announced it would merge with Northeast University, Mills’ alumni group, a women’s college, began a failed legal battle questioning the merger.
“I think what makes these discussions so often challenging is that there are so many elements [students, faculty, staff, trustees, local community] Those who, quite accurately, even if they have the same information, may not see things the same way, “said McIntosh.” The idea that all these groups are going to be enthusiastic about a certain partnership is unrealistic. “
But excluding the risks, McIntosh said the merger should be open to some colleges, especially if market forces – such as enrollment challenges driven by population or other factors – put colleges in a position to choose between merging or closing.
Outside of the shrinking pool of students going to college and therefore the reduction in tuition income, King noted that reduced donations and grants would increase the financial pressure.
Projected to close colleges is a “stupid game,” McIntosh said, but given the trend towards higher education, especially for smaller private colleges, leaders need to think ahead.
“I think the reality is that a significant percentage of small private colleges do not see their current situation as sustainable in the medium term. This does not mean that they will all be destroyed, it does not mean that they are going to merge, but I think a significant percentage of small private colleges do not see a way to configure them as sustainable at the moment, financially or programmatically, “said McIntosh. . “If you lead a small private college, you should think very hard about your current environment and think creatively about your options.”