After an anouncement this spring that Mills College may cease to exist as an undergraduate college and stop granting degrees in 2023, a new development suggests that Mills may live on after all, albeit as part of a larger institution.
Mills College President Elizabeth Hillman announced Thursday that the school was entering formal negotiations to become Mills College at Northeastern University, becoming a new campus for the private, nonprofit, Boston-based research university.
"Our goal is to combine our two institutions so that, together, we can expand Mills’ core strengths, including advancing student access, women’s leadership, equity, and social justice," Hillman said in a release. "This new alliance would allow for continued conferral of degrees on the Mills campus with the Mills name as part of those degrees, enhanced support for Mills’ current students, faculty, and staff, and the future development of new educational programs."
This is likely a relief for at least some alumni who were facing the possibility that Mills might just become an "institute" without any undergraduate presence. Though one hitch to the deal is that Mills will cease to be a women's college, which had been a sticking point for alumni and students when discussions to go co-ed had been raised several years ago.
Mills announced on March 17 that due to ongoing financial problems and ever-decreasing enrollment, the school would accept its last class of undergraduates beginning in Fall 2021, and likely confer its last degrees in 2023, with some undergraduates having to transfer elsewhere in order to complete their degrees.
Some other acquisition offers apparently came in since then, but the Mills College Board of Trustees says that the proposal from Northeastern was "so compelling" that it authorized formal negotiations to begin.
"Together with our colleagues at Mills, we are seeking to create something truly unique in higher education," says Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun in a statement. "Northeastern’s history and enduring focus on inclusion and empowering people from all backgrounds to realize educational and lifelong success is in perfect congruence with Mills and its ideals. Not only are our missions aligned, but by combining our signature strengths, we can create new and distinctive opportunities that extend and enhance our collective priorities."
In answer to some FAQs on the Mills website, the school says it wants to "continue Mills’ critical role in supporting women and helping nonbinary, BIPOC, first-generation, and LGBTQ+ students accomplish their higher education goals." They add that "This is key to our identity and an important reason why Northeastern wants to collaborate with Mills."
Current Mills students could also, potentially, transfer to Northeastern in Boston or another campus depending on their degree program or goals, at no extra cost.
Mills also says that Northeastern would potentially support "the launch of the Mills Institute or Center as a hub for research and advocacy to advance women’s leadership, educational access, social justice, and other causes embedded in the Mills mission and legacy. "
"I will continue to keep the Mills community informed as discussions with Northeastern proceed and more information becomes available," Hillman says.
Northeastern University, established in 1898, currently appears to have nine satellite campuses, including two in Canada — one each in Toronto and Vancouver. Other cities where Northeastern now operates include San Francisco; San Jose; Seattle; Charlotte; Burlington, Vermont; and Portland, Maine. In San Francisco, the school's three-year-old "campus" is "embedded" in a WeWork location at 600 California Street, and the focus is on "technology-focused online/hybrid masters degree & certificate programs."