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North Central College is poised to acquire Shimer College under an agreement between Illinois institutions that leaders hope will have Shimer, a small four-year Great Books college, becoming its own division in a larger institution.

Shimer, which has an enrollment of about 70, and North Central, an independent liberal arts and sciences college with a combined undergraduate and graduate enrollment of more than 2,900, announced on Thursday that they intend to do a deal. The two institutions will now move forward with negotiating a final agreement intended to close at the beginning of March 2017. If successful, the move would create a Shimer Great Books School reporting directly to North Central’s provost for the fall 2017 term, said Troy D. Hammond, North Central president.  Goals are to expand the amenities Shimer can offer to students and grow its size modestly, he said. But North Central wants to keep Shimer’s identity.

 “If we weren’t going to do that, we wouldn’t be having the conversation,” Hammond said. “We recognize the strength and value of what’s unique about Shimer.”

 The move toward an acquisition comes a decade after Shimer decided to relocate from Waukegan, Ill. to lease space at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. Shimer’s lease in Chicago was not expiring, said the college’s president, Susan E. Henking. But the college and its trustees wanted to find a strategy that would preserve it for the future, she said.

“There are some things you can do as a tenant and some things you can do as a kind of partner to another institution,” Henking said. “We have a mission that says we should be small, but that’s a challenge in today’s environment. If we want to keep with our mission of very small classes and the kind of core curriculum we do, we’ve got to find a different structure.”

Shimer faculty would become faculty at North Central, and its students would become North Central students. The colleges said that would give them access to activities, arts and athletics.