When Colleges Close
Leading in a Time of Crisis
Founded in 1888 as Miss Wheelock's Kindergarten Training School, Wheelock College's mission was to prepare students to work in the helping professions, including teaching and social work. But in 2018, struggling with growing debt and declining admissions, the 130-year-old institution officially closed and merged with Boston University, creating the BU Wheelock College of Education and Human Development.
Written by the former president and vice president of academic affairs of Wheelock College, When Colleges Close presents the remarkable success story of Wheelock's merger with Boston University and its closure as a standalone institution. In an era when more and more institutions are at risk of closure, this book offers a detailed description of how the board and administration of one small college with an enrollment of under 1,100 students determined early that it needed to plan for a future in which it would no longer be viable. Mary L. Churchill and David J. Chard provide readers with a detailed understanding of the process they designed with their board and select members of the Wheelock community to generate multiple partnership options. They also describe how they managed the process through the final negotiations, despite being a small institution in an asymmetric merger with Boston University, which has an enrollment of over 33,000 students.
As the higher education sector faces increased volatility, colleges and universities will need authentic, transparent, and student-focused leadership to navigate new forms of crisis and transition. Written for leaders in both small colleges and larger universities who may find themselves in similar situations, as well as for scholars of higher education who are interested in strategic planning, When Colleges Close is the sobering yet hopeful story of a venerable regional institution that turned its long-term enrollment challenges into a strong merger.
About the Authors
Mary L. Churchill, the former vice president for academic affairs at Wheelock College, is the associate dean of strategic initiatives and community engagement at BU Wheelock. She is the founding editor of Inside Higher Ed's University of Venus blog. David J. Chard, the former president of Wheelock College, is the dean ad interim of BU Wheelock.
"This positive and helpful book does an exceptional job of telling the story of Wheelock's merger with Boston University while talking through the financial implications."
"Churchill and Chard tell a gripping story of courageous and insightful leadership, emotional sensitivity, and the power of integrity in uncharted waters. At the same time, they detail a compelling, innovative process to treat a merger not as a failure but as a way to preserve institutional values and mission. They also offer inspiration and insight on every page."
"Churchill and Chard have thoughtfully documented the last years of Wheelock College, and the 'merger' that led to its final incarnation as a school within Boston University. They share the politics, finances, and emotions associated with institutional closure, but perhaps most valuably, they outline the leadership failures which compel such an outcome. A great read in today's challenged higher education environment."
"When Colleges Close will be of enormous value to presidents and governing boards on either side of a potential merger or contemplating closure. Churchill and Chard illustrate the importance of communication, transparency, compassion, and putting students first. Wheelock College and Boston University were highly successful, and this volume shows why."
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