A quick dive:
- Hilbert College, a small Franciscan institution in western New York, announced plans Wednesday to acquire Valley College, a for-profit organization with educational centers in West Virginia and Ohio.
- The colleges will operate independently of a new nonprofit parent organization called Franciscan Services. They plan to create transfer pathways between the two colleges’ online programs and explore shared services to reduce costs.
- Together, the two colleges will serve more than 2,000 students. Both institutions have seen recent enrollment growth, with Hilbert seeing an increase in online and athletics enrollment last year. With an enrollment of approximately 1,000 students, Valley College has grown steadily over the past decade.
The deal brings together colleges with staggeringly diverse student populations. More than half of Valley College’s student body is online, and its four learning centers primarily serve adult students, generally considered to be 25 years of age or older.
At Hilbert, 750 students are full-time students, while about 150 are in graduate school or studying online, according to the announcement. According to federal data, about 9 out of 10 college students are age 24 or younger.
As a small, private, nonprofit organization, Hilbert is also among a group of higher education institutions facing serious economic challenges. They include pressure to offer tuition discounts to encourage students to enroll and an expected decline in the traditional college-age population around 2025 due to declining birthrates during the Great Recession.
According to the announcement, the deal is designed to address some of these issues.
“Through this strategic acquisition, both Hilbert College and Valley College are adapting to changes affecting higher education, including declining high school graduation rates, growing workforce development needs, and regional and national trends in higher education,” — said Valley College President Tony Palmieri. statement
Hilbert was at the forefront of some of these issues. In fiscal year 2016, Gilbert earned $16.6 million in tuition and fees, but received $4.1 million in scholarships. certified financial statement. That means the institution gave back about 25 cents for every dollar raised.
By fiscal year 2021 this amount has increased to about 42 cents for every dollar raised — even as college enrollment declined during that period. That year, Gilbert brought in $17.4 million in tuition and fees, but gave away $7.3 million in financial aid.
Still, Gilbert’s enrollment has increased recently, an increase that officials attribute in part to new online programs. According to Michael Brophy, the college’s president, Hilbert’s enrollment will reach 900 in the fall of 2022. That’s up from 784 students a year earlier.
Brophy credited the acquisition as helping Hilbert and Valley become stronger institutions, including by increasing purchasing power for resources such as technology and textbooks. This combined force can help avoid some of the problems plaguing smaller colleges.
“Small classes are good, small counseling settings are good,” Brophy said. “But small, like in college, doesn’t work. It’s very difficult for small colleges.”
Brophy envisions transferring the partnership between Hilbert and Valley, which he believes will transform from a nonprofit to a for-profit as a result of the deal.
The two institutions could also help each other develop better programs. Valley, for example, specializes in allied health and health sciences programs, and Gilbert could use the institution’s expertise to develop its own degrees in those fields.
The Valley College acquisition is subject to state, federal and accreditor approval. Officials hope to close the deal this spring. A spokesman declined to share financial details of the acquisition.
Such deals have been attractive to other private, for-profit colleges. Saint Joseph’s University, a Jesuit institution in Philadelphia, recently announced plans to acquire the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences, another state nonprofit.
The expansion will allow the university to increase its reach and add more than 20 health and nursing programs. This is the second acquisition Saint Joseph’s is looking to complete in less than two years.
Other for-profit institutions have also sought to acquire for-profit colleges in recent years. In 2021, the University of Arkansas System approved the acquisition Grantham University, which at the time was not-for-profit online, to increase its virtual offerings.