Northeastern poised to rescue Oakland’s Mills College

The new partnership would prevent the California institution from closing and continue inclusivity missions for both.
By: | June 18, 2021
Photo by Steve Babuljak/Mills College

Small private Mills College in Oakland, Calif., which announced in March that its fall 2021 class would be its last, is in the process of being rescued by an unlikely source, a large institution from the East Coast.

Officials at Boston-based Northeastern University, which has in recent years expanded its global reach with campuses in England, Canada and in nearby San Francisco, say they are working on a deal to help continue the mission of its potential partner under a new name: Mills College at Northeastern University. The Board of Trustees at Mills voted on Thursday to explore the possibility.

If approved, current students would be able to continue their studies and pursue their degrees at Mills College, the new Mills at Northeastern College or by transferring to Northeastern at no further cost. The college also would allow for transfers to other partner institutions. Scholarships and financial aid offers would be honored by Northeastern.

“Our goal is to combine our two institutions so that, together, we can expand Mills’ core strengths, including advancing student access, women’s leadership, equity and social justice,” Elizabeth Hillman, President of Mills College, said in statement to the community. “This new alliance would allow for continued conferral of degrees on the Mills campus with the Mills name as part of those degrees; enhanced support for current students, faculty, and staff; and the future development of new educational programs.”

It is unclear how many faculty and staff members would be retained, although Hillman said a “significant number” would be given the chance to remain at the new college or at Northeastern’s other campuses, including in Boston.

If the alliance is forged, the new gender-inclusive college would serve undergraduate and graduate students and be the likely home of a new Mills Institute or Center, which would house “a hub for research and advocacy to advance women’s leadership, educational access, social justice, and other causes embedded in the Mills mission and legacy,” Hillman wrote.

The potential consolidation is becoming more common as small private institutions struggle to maintain financial footing in higher education and larger ones are willing to expand their reach. The alliance would give Northeastern a chance to increase its own global network and fulfill its strategic vision.

“We are seeking to create something truly unique in higher education…a transformational opportunity that has the potential to shape our community for generations to come,” President Joseph Aoun wrote to Northeastern’s community. “Not only are our missions aligned, but by combining our signature strengths we can create new and distinctive opportunities that extend and enhance our collective priorities. Northeastern’s history and enduring focus on inclusion and empowering people from all backgrounds to realize educational and lifelong success is in perfect congruence with Mills and its ideals.”