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A photo illustration of the Marymount Manhattan College campus with the logos for Northeastern University and Marymount Manhattan College overlaid and intermingled.

Marymount Manhattan College is merging with Northeastern University, pending regulatory approval.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | Marymount Manhattan College | Northeastern University

Northeastern University is once again expanding, this time through a merger with Marymount Manhattan College, extending Northeastern’s already sizable footprint into New York City. 

The merger, announced Wednesday, comes after more than a year of talks between the two institutions. The latest addition to Northeastern’s global university system, Marymount Manhattan will be the 14th worldwide campus for the private Boston-based institution.

Northeastern’s expansion efforts, which began in 2011 with the opening of a graduate campus in North Carolina, have ramped up in recent years. Since 2019, the university has set up campuses in London, northern California, Miami, and Portland, Maine, which also includes a research center. In the case of London, California and now NYC, a merger opened the door for Northeastern.

Opportunities for Both Institutions

Unlike many institutions that have been absorbed by larger universities, Marymount Manhattan College appears from the outside to be stable.

Public financial documents show that MMC has generated positive revenue in nine of the last 10 available fiscal years. Enrollment, however, has been declining; while it hovered around 2,000 students before the coronavirus pandemic, that number is currently around 1,400, according to a statement from Northeastern’s president announcing the merger plans.

But Marymount officials noted the strong headwinds facing small, tuition-dependent, liberal arts colleges—declining enrollment, rising operational costs and skepticism about the value of a college degree—and said the merger offered a chance to continue their mission for years to come.

“We faced challenges, there’s no question,” Abby Fiorella, chair of the Marymount Manhattan College Board of Trustees, told Inside Higher Ed. “But the board was very proactive, we were forward thinking. We wanted to come at it from a position of strength, and that’s what we did.”

Fiorella said the college began looking at merger possibilities about two years ago, when the board formed a Strategic Opportunities committee, “essentially putting all options on the table looking at long-term preservation of our mission, our values, and our college.” 

Northeastern was initially one of multiple prospective partners, but eventually it rose to the top.

“From mission all the way through to curricular alignment, programmatic alignment, experiential learning—it was a partnership that just made all the sense in the world,” MMC interim president Peter Naccarato said, emphasizing their shared commitment to social justice and equity.

He noted that merging with Northeastern will also give Marymount Manhattan an opportunity to grow its signature creative and performing arts programs, which it had limited ability to do on its own.

“The strengths that we have, where we could stabilize and in fact grow enrollment, are also the programs that require the most investment,” Naccarato said. “So it was, frankly, a vicious circle. And, yes, we can sustain those programs in the long term, but doing so in and of itself would not necessarily guarantee the kind of stability that we would need in the future.”

Though consolidation may lead to staffing changes in certain areas, Naccarato believes the newly christened Northeastern University—New York City will need more, not fewer, personnel as it seeks to expand its offerings once the merger is finalized.

In an email Wednesday announcing the merger, Northeastern President Joseph Aoun highlighted the possibilities of a New York City campus, noting the “demand for lifelong learning” in NYC and the city’s “status as a financial and media capital” with a “fast-growing technology sector.”

“Just as we’ve seen in Seattle, the Bay Area and in Canada, professionals with undergraduate degrees are seeking opportunities to reskill and upskill themselves to meet the employment opportunities of tomorrow,” Aoun wrote, referencing other areas where Northeastern is active.

He also credited the leaders of Marymount Manhattan College for “their foresight and dedication to the well-being of their students” within a shifting higher education landscape.

While the governing boards of both institutions have already signed off on the agreement, the merger between Northeastern and MMC is still subject to regulatory approvals before it is finalized.

A Growing Global System

The merger between Northeastern and Marymount Manhattan comes at a time when small, liberal arts colleges in New York have been under financial strain. Several have recently closed, including Wells College, Medaille University, Alliance University, the College of Saint Rose, The King’s College, and Cazenovia College.

While numerous nonprofit institutions across the nation have also closed—including more than a dozen that announced the decision to do so last year—Northeastern has been on an expansion spree since 2011, adding operations across the U.S. and in three international locations.

“The Global University System has steadily expanded through a variety of approaches: organic ‘start-up’ campuses, philanthropic partnerships and mergers with high-quality institutions such as the New College of the Humanities in London and Mills College in Oakland. In each of those mergers, our institutions determined that we could achieve more by joining together than we could accomplish individually,” Aoun wrote in announcing the latest deal.

MMC is Northeastern’s third acquisition since 2019, when it absorbed the New College of the Humanities in London. Two years later, it added Mills College in Oakland, California—a move opposed by alumnae groups, who unsuccessfully sued to keep Mills independent.

While Northeastern has deep pockets—its endowment was valued at almost $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2023—the university is not among the nation’s wealthiest institutions, which have assets stretching into the tens of billions of dollars. It has, however, seen consistent growth, not only in its endowment but also in the reported 53 percent increase in applications over the last five years.

“Northeastern is currently experiencing unprecedented demand,” Michael Armini, senior vice president of external affairs, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed. While “there is no magic number of campuses,” he added, NU continues to “seek strategic opportunities to expand our teaching and research” in areas where there is unmet demand and potential for collaboration.

“The development of the global university system has strengthened Northeastern in myriad ways, including our financial health, demand for our educational offerings, faculty recruitment, philanthropic opportunities, and brand visibility,” he wrote. “Most importantly, our multi-campus network has expanded the impact of our teaching and research. The addition of a New York City campus will further amplify all of these benefits, while also providing powerful differentiation at a time when higher education is undergoing profound changes.”

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