California colleges see value in sharing … a campus

Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, California, needs more space. Students learn in makeshift classrooms at a local medical center and lack a campus to call their own.

Instead of building one, officials came up with a new solution to meet the institution’s needs: Share a campus with another college in Oakland.

This fall, Samuel Merritt and Holy Names University signed a non-binding letter of intent to explore the possibilities of sharing a single property.

Current shared campus examples

  • Tennessee: King University, Memorial University, Milligan College and Northeast State Community College operate out of Kingsport Academic Village.
  • Colorado: The Auraria Campus in Denver contains the Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and University of Colorado Denver.

The plan involves both universities operating from the 60-acre Holy Names campus and embarking on a shared investment in the construction of new classrooms and dorms, says Sharon Diaz, president and CEO of Samuel Merritt.

“Sharing a campus is a more cost-effective solution than building a brand new campus or leaving space unoccupied,” says Diaz. “We can operate in the same environment without being competitive.”

Samuel Merritt’s focus is on health sciences, while Holy Names is a Catholic liberal arts college.

Shared campus arrangements will become more common as enrollments decline and more classes are offered online, says E. Lander Medlin, executive vice president of the organization APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities.

Cost is also a significant factor.

“Collaborating—being able to figure out where the opportunities are and being creative in seeing them—can benefit the bottom lines of both entities,” Medlin says.

Opportunities range from partnering on a specific building, such as a library or fitness facility, to sharing whole campuses or merging entire institutions.

Creating agreements that will help institutions survive and, hopefully, thrive, is no simple task.

Diaz estimates it will take 12 to 18 months for the two institutions to develop a strategic plan that determines how two administrations will operate on one campus. And it could take up to eight years before the universities occupy the shared campus. But Diaz is optimistic.

“It makes more sense than anything else we’ve looked at,” she says, “and we’re convinced it can be done.”

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