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Three Connecticut colleges announced Tuesday a plan to acquire parts of the University of Bridgeport and to turn the existing Bridgeport campus into one “University Park.”

The involved institutions avoided describing the arrangement as a merger or acquisition. Instead, the result will be like an “academic food court,” said Mark Scheinberg, president of Goodwin University, one of Bridgeport’s successor institutions.

“In one place, you’ll have people that are in dorms that may be going to different schools and different classes. You’re going to have people using the same food service, same security services, the same rec services, the same library,” he said. Students at all the involved colleges will have options to take courses at the neighboring institutions and transfer credits back.

Private, nonprofit Goodwin University and Sacred Heart University, along with the for-profit Paier College of Art, will acquire Bridgeport’s assets over a still-to-be-determined period of time. Stephen Healey, Bridgeport’s interim president, said the entire process will likely take between 12 and 18 months. John Petillo, Sacred Heart’s president, said the arrangement hinges on special accreditation for programs that will transfer.

Sacred Heart plans to absorb the engineering, chiropractic and education certificate programs, along with graduate tracks in counseling and nutrition. Goodwin hopes to take on another handful of programs, including the master's in public health, criminal justice and business and administration, as well as most of the health science programs.

Scheinberg praised Bridgeport for putting the acquisition deal in motion before its funds dried up.

“I’ve seen the financials, and the University of Bridgeport was not on death’s door,” he said.

For years, Bridgeport has struggled to chart a strong financial path forward. The small private college enrolls just under 5,500 students and faces declining domestic and international enrollments. With expenses that surpass its annual revenue of about $147 million, the university has reached further into its endowment to subsidize operations year after year. Healey said in an email that the COVID-19 pandemic was “background context but not the primary factor” for the decision to pursue other options.

“What happens in too many schools is that they will run it until they just can’t anymore,” Scheinberg said. “Then you have those terrible stories, where you have a Mount Ida, or one of these stories where the funds are cut off somehow. This was not one of those stories.”

The announcement follows the breakdown of a merger deal between Bridgeport and Marlboro College in 2019.

Bridgeport’s debt will be paid by the successor institutions, according to Scheinberg. Asked what will happen to Bridgeport’s endowment, Healey said that “restrictions and donor intent will be honored.”

A teach-out agreement for current Bridgeport students is still being worked out.

“Every student will finish the degree that he or she entered in for, if they want,” Petillo said. “If the program is not being offered by anybody else, we’ll certainly work with them in getting them into another local college.”

Also up in the air is which and how many faculty and staff members will be rehired by the successor institutions. Petillo and Scheinberg both said their universities are in contact with Bridgeport faculty and staff.

“Our deans are going to meet with all the faculty of those programs that we have and explore if they’re interested in moving on to Sacred Heart,” Petillo said. “It’s almost like dating at this point, just to get to know each other.”

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