Joining together for better education

By Kendall Westgate,

What happens when Derrick the Oiler and the Bluffton Beaver merge together? The Broilers. However, this merger between the two Universities will still support the separate mascots, despite merging into one university.

The March 20 announcement that University of Findlay and Bluffton University were pursuing a merger sent shock waves across both campuses. It was a surprise announcement but UF President Dr. Katherine Fell says it’s the realization of the state of higher education.

“I think our two institutions have been good at adjusting to realities,” Fell said..” We have always been realistic and visionary at the same time; I see both institutions behaving with realism and vision.” 

Since 2016, 70 college institutions closed or merged or plan to, according to The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. What many students from the University of Findlay and Bluffton University didn’t realize was that their universities are now part of the many schools merging and closing.

In an all-campus meeting with UF staff and faculty last week, President Dr. Fell announced the potential merger between UF and Bluffton by signing a memorandum of understanding. The memorandum of understanding means that the boards of trustees have agreed unanimously to pursue a merger of the two universities

Leaders from Bluffton University got in touch with President Dr. Fell last spring semester about a possible merger, which then turned into a more serious partnership, according to President Dr. Fell. A third-party entity, Higher Education Consolidation Solutions, was brought in to assess and review what each campus would bring into the merge, which yielded positive results.

“That gave us the backing to take the next steps toward bringing our full boards to the table to consider whether to vote in favor of signing a memorandum of understanding to then seriously pursue a merger,” President Dr. Fell said. “Both boards fully considered the pros and cons of this relationship and voted enthusiastically and unanimously to go forward in signing a Memorandum of Understanding. Now, we spend many more months in phase two, which includes increased due diligence assessing all of our programs.”

On March 25 at 7 p.m., a town hall meeting occurred in Winebrenner auditorium to discuss the proposed merger. Dr. Jane Wood, President of Bluffton University, and President Dr. Fell both answered questions from the audience. Another town hall meeting is set to take place at Yoder Recital Hall on Bluffton University’s campus on March 26 at 7 p.m. President Dr. Fell encouraged students, employees, parents, alumni and community members to attend.

A question asked in the town hall meeting regarded the transition into the merger. According to President Dr. Fell, the merger will take place in four phases, with the first phase including due diligence being done. The meeting also discussed maintaining the same divisions for athletics, including the Oilers remaining Division II and the Beavers remaining Division III.

“We plan to sustain D3 athletics at Bluffton University and D2 athletics at the University of Findlay. Other campuses have done this and done it successfully,” President Dr. Fell said. “We’re meeting within our team in charge of athletics and student affairs from Bluffton and the University of Findlay and going to NCAA tomorrow (March 25) in Indianapolis to talk through that process.”

Made clear in the meeting was that the University of Findlay is not buying out Bluffton University. Bluffton’s identity will remain the same.

“We’re not buying them. We are bringing together our strengths, which will make us a much better institution together,” President Dr. Fell said. “I’m very impressed by President Woods’ leadership at Bluffton. The campus has managed its finances well. It has had a balanced budget for a number of years now under her leadership. I think she comes to this potential merger with the best interest of Bluffton at heart. She comes to it with a vision for the future.”

President Dr. Wood also discussed that the decision to merge universities was not due to finances.

“This is a way for us to really put forward a growth mindset. We really do believe that we are going to be stronger together,” President Dr. Wood said. “We certainly hope to achieve some financial synergies, the driving force was really our mission and really looking forwards to the future and collaboration.”

Students, UF and Bluffton faculty and community members attended the town hall meeting on March 25 including UF student Olivia Perry.. 

“It was interesting to hear about the reasons we are merging and how the future might look,” Perry said. “While I wasn’t worried about change, I was curious about how this merge would be implemented.”

After answering questions from the Findlay Bluffton Future – Better Together website, the town hall meeting turned to answering questions from the audience, which included what tuition will look like. 

“It’s too early. There’s certainly not going to be change because of this proposed merger next year; that will remain the same,” President Dr. Fell said. “Before we enter a merger, we will have assessed tuition costs at both campuses. I don’t see us making a drastic change for students that are currently enrolled in either institution any more than you would in any given year. Tuition goes up a little bit about every year. We would assess what types of changes in tuition would be reasonable and then communicate that to our students over a period of time post-merger.”

President Dr. Fell believes many more campuses will consider mergers in the future due to the college enrollment decreasing.

“I look forward to our two campuses together; finding ways to provide an even better education to our students and to finding ways to set an example for how to adjust two institutions so that they remain strong and vital in the face of a changing population of college students,” President Dr. Fell said.