Holy Names University and Samuel Merritt University, among two of Oakland's oldest centers of learning, are considering a creative alliance that may lead to both universities sharing space on one campus.
Discussions are still in the beginning stage, said Michael Groener, interim president at HNU. As these discussions continue, input and feedback from both university communities as well as other communities in Oakland will be sought and will have a voice in the collaboration.
"Each of our universities was founded in Oakland more than a century ago, and we have a deep commitment to this community," said Sharon Diaz, SMU president. "It is exciting to explore the potential ways our collaboration could help us better serve people throughout Oakland."
The two universities come to this alliance from different paths. Founded in 1868 by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Holy Names University offers a liberal arts and professional education that empowers students for leadership, service and promoting the common good in an ever-changing world. Meanwhile Samuel Merritt University has been educating students since 1909 to become highly skilled and compassionate healthcare professionals who "positively transform the experience of care in diverse communities."
While Holy Names University and Samuel Merritt University would remain separate — with distinct governing boards, faculties and administration — the universities would focus on the benefits of sharing a common campus such as sharing a library and dining areas and complementary programs and resources and opportunities for community service.
One of the key benefits of sharing a common campus is space — Samuel Merritt, a Sutter Health affiliate, needs to find a new location in order to accommodate a growing student population while Holy Names has experienced a decrease in its student population and is working to develop a sustainable model to grow enrollment.
According to Groener, the student population at HNU is currently just under 900 students. This is down from 1,300 students in 2012-2013. He credited the dip in enrollment to a change in demographics. He explained there are fewer students to go around and there is increased competition for those students between private and public colleges and universities.
"We need to do it better and convince others that we can," said Groener, who succeeded Jeannie Watson as HNU interim president on Nov. 1. He has served as vice president of finance and administration at HNU since summer 2016.
Groener has experience with campus collaboration through his work with the Claremont Colleges, which is a consortium of seven institutions that are "co-located" in the Claremont area in southern California. The academic institutions, which include Pomona College, Scripps College, Harvey Mudd College, have their own distinct missions, students and faculties, have complementary programs and there is sharing of books, dining halls and central services.
As the Holy Names-Samuel Merritt discussions move forward it will be the compatible missions, values and visions that will help drive the collaboration, Groener said. "Both are interested in social justice. Both are committed to Oakland. Both are committed to the underserved," he said.
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