Mills College explores merging into Northeastern University to avert closure

by Joseph K. Clark

Dive Brief:

  • Mills College, a women’s school in Oakland, California, announced this week that it is exploring being absorbed by Northeastern University in Boston.
  • Under the plan, the school would become Mills College at Northeastern University and no longer operate as an independent, standalone institution, Mills President Elizabeth Hillman said in the announcement.
  • Mills told students that it would no longer accept new students due to mounting financial difficulties earlier this year. It’s one of several small schools that say the pandemic worsened current budget woes.

Dive Insight:

Mills officials shocked students in March when they announced that it would stop operating as a college and turn into an institute, though they didn’t elaborate on what that meant. Students, faculty members, and alumnae have since fought the move with steps like protests on campus and a no-confidence vote in the administration.

 Northeastern University

After this week’s announcement, the Save Mills College Coalition accused the school’s governing board of operating in secrecy, saying the trustees haven’t shared any financial information or detailed the reasoning. “It may be that this idea is great. It might not,” the coalition wrote in a tweet on Friday, demanding the board act more transparently.

Mills declined an interview Friday, and Northeastern University did not respond to an emailed request for an interview from Higher Ed Dive. However, Mills laid out how the plan will affect students and faculty members in an FAQ on its website.

The school said it had been in talks with educational institutions to form partnerships that would allow Mills to “preserve its legacy,” and board members recently authorized the school to pursue formal negotiations with Northeastern.

The arrangement would allow the campus to continue awarding degrees under Mills College at Northeastern University and offer undergraduate and graduate education. Students would also have their financial aid awards honored.

The proposal may alleviate some of Mills’ hardships. “Northeastern understands the importance of Mills receiving financial support to cover its operating expenses,” the college wrote in the FAQ.

But the plan would also bring significant changes, such as making the campus co-ed. Mills currently accepts only women and nonbinary students into its undergraduate classes, though men may enroll in graduate programs.  The two colleges also plan to establish the Mills Institute, which will be home to research and advocacy to “advance women’s leadership, equity, inclusion, and social justice,” according to an announcement from Northeastern.

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