Enhancing mission, vision, reach and impact—through mergers

For these two small higher ed institutions in New Hampshire, the synergy was clear and the outcomes positive
By: | February 11, 2020
(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)
Michele Perkins is president of New England College in New Hampshire. (Photo by Allegra Boverma.)

Michele Perkins is president of New England College in New Hampshire. (Photo by Allegra Boverma.)

The news today is filled with stories of colleges exploring mergers and acquisitions. Reasons vary: Some colleges seek to shore up finances, build their reputation or grow enrollment. Others, including my institution, New England College, view mergers as a proactive strategy—an effective way to enhance mission, vision, reach and impact.

I recently oversaw the completion of a successful merger between NEC, a small college in Henniker, New Hampshire, and the New Hampshire Institute of Art, located in Manchester, New Hampshire. The merger worked because it represented a partnership that benefitted both institutions, and those we serve, in ways that are tangible, measurable and enduring. But to understand why this merger advanced, it’s important to consider each school’s mandate and rich history.

This fall’s incoming class met enrollment and budget goals, with anticipated growth achieved for the Institute of Art and Design and another record-level incoming class for New England College.

Promising partners

NEC, a private nonprofit institution founded in 1946 to serve returning veterans from World War II, is dedicated to providing an exceptional education delivered in the liberal arts tradition, with an emphasis on experiential learning. NEC enrolls approximately 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year.

Founded in 1898, NHIA was the oldest and largest nonprofit arts institution in the state. Enrolling about 300 full-time students annually, NHIA offered undergraduate, graduate and community education programs in art, design and writing.

At the outset, we identified NHIA as a promising partner because its academic offerings complemented NEC’s curriculum, while its location in nearby Manchester helped reinforce our presence in one of New England’s largest cities. Affiliation with a liberal arts college was an advantage for NHIA, allowing for the broader recruitment of students. Following the merger, NHIA students had many new options for majors and minors in the event they chose to pursue another discipline. And because of proximity, a merger offered the opportunity for shared resources, consolidations and greater efficiencies. The synergy was clear.

Coming together

Both schools worked closely, candidly and cooperatively throughout the negotiation process, which began in October 2017 and culminated in a memorandum of understanding executed in May 2018. The merger was completed in July 2019. NHIA was rebranded as the Institute of Art and Design at New England College, and in September, we welcomed our first joint cohort of new students.


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This fall’s incoming class met enrollment and budget goals, with anticipated growth achieved for the Institute of Art and Design and another record-level incoming class for New England College.

Together, we developed a plan that would benefit and support students, faculty, staff and alumni. We addressed academic offerings, accreditation, enrollment, operations, human resources, finances and student services, and worked to create one cohesive academic community. We worked diligently to build relationships based on mutual trust and were committed to keeping both our key constituents and our broader communities informed and engaged. Although not all employees remained at the combined institution, we worked hard to ensure that the large majority continued in their jobs.


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Most important, the colleges’ boards shared my belief that the union of two distinctive institutions would contribute to the short- and long-term success of our students. To date, we have successfully merged our academic calendars and aligned our credit system. Students from both campuses regularly participate in cultural, artistic, athletic and social events held on both sites.

We realized that while some traditions at the acquired institution cannot be maintained, they must be recognized. This spring, the Institute at Art and Design at NEC will hold commencement ceremonies in Manchester to honor the desires of current seniors. Going forward, we will hold one commencement in Henniker as we come together as a single institution.


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Stronger, more sustainable

As we discover what works well and what no longer makes sense, more change will occur. We will maximize space, leverage locations and explore new academic programs in response to the workforce needs of our community. And we will work to ensure that the original vision of the merger process—by combining, we would become stronger and more sustainable—becomes a reality for our students and communities.


Michele Perkins is president of New England College in New Hampshire.