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Presidents of the University of Findlay and Bluffton University, located 20 miles apart in Northwest Ohio, announced plans to merge on Wednesday. They signed a memorandum of understanding to join together as one institution that would still operate on the two campuses. The merger is expected to take place by fall 2025.

Katherine Fell, president of University of Findlay, said in a press release that higher ed is “facing significant changes and challenges” that require the attention of college administrators. Those challenges include a shrinking population of college-age students in the country and declining enrollment rates at many institutions.

“These times call upon us to be innovative and forward-thinking,” she said. “From a vantage point in the future, we will look back at this moment in the history of higher education as one that required new approaches and bold actions. I believe this merger will prove to be both.”

She added that the universities received funding for a third-party report assessing the pros and cons of the merger from the Transformational Partnerships Fund, which supports higher ed institutions exploring partnerships that could improve student success.

The two institutions plan to merge their operations but retain some of their respective traditions. University of Findlay intends to stay affiliated with the Churches of God, General Conference, while Bluffton University plans to remain affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Pending approval from the NCAA, Bluffton would continue to compete as the “Beavers” in NCAA Division III, while Findlay would continue to compete as the “Oilers” in NCAA Division II.

“Our early interactions have made clear that we share a commitment to preparing generations of students to find and live out their callings,” Jane Wood, president of Bluffton University, said in the release. “By combining the best of pre-professional and liberal arts programs, our institutions will become even better at equipping future students to discover and to research what will ultimately bring meaning and purpose to their lives. We are stronger together.”

The announcement comes at a time when a number of institutions have merged or faced pressures to merge in the face of the enrollment declines.