Hampshire College looking for strategic partner, may not admit new class

Hampshire County
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Hampshire College is looking to enter into a long-term strategic partnership, as the college considers whether or not to admit an incoming class this fall semester.

In a letter sent to the college community on Tuesday, Hampshire President Miriam Nelson wrote that they are looking for a long-term partner that can “help us achieve a thriving and sustainable future for Hampshire.”

Nelson noted that small liberal arts colleges are facing financial challenges and that the college in South Amherst has been an “under-endowed institution, really from our very first days.”

“This is an unusual step for a college to be announcing this, but we are an unusual college,” Nelson told 22News.

Nelson said that the administration is working with the college’s trustees to consider whether or not to admit an incoming class in the fall.

According to a “Strategic Partnership FAQ” document provided by the college, Hampshire currently cannot be sure that an incoming class will be able to enjoy the same educational experience students are currently offered in the coming four years. The FAQ document goes on to state definitively, however, that Hampshire College is not closing.

Nelson says that a decision about whether or not to admit a new class will be made by the February 1 admissions notification date. They’ll work with the 39 students who were accepted under Early Decision in December, and then withdraw their applications to other schools.

“We are calling each one of them individually to let them know that we are considering this decision and we are there for them to allow them to consider what is in the best interest for them,” said Nelson.

In her letter, Nelson notes that Hampshire College maintains a balanced budget, and a $52 million endowment, which “has performed well.”

It is unclear what a new partnership would mean for staffing at the college, the FAQ document states.

“We understand how unsettling this can be. It is our intention to keep staff and faculty continually updated as the process unfolds. We care deeply for all our employees, and are committed to a process where all decisions are predicated on respect, dignity, and appreciation for people’s wellbeing,” it reads.

As far as what a strategic partnership would look like, the college president said that could mean a merger with another school. Hampshire College will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020.

Recent Hampshire College graduate Gabriel Bernini has faith the school can maintain tradition. 

“My mom went to Hampshire College, I knew a lot of people growing up that went to Hampshire College,” said Bernini. “A school that offers multiple ways for people to get the education they want on their terms. As long as they keep doing what they do, we’ll all be better off.”

The announcement also leaves questions about its future role in the Five College Consortium, which allows students from Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMass to cross-register at each institution.

Smith College released a statement Tuesday that read: 

Dear students, faculty and staff:

This morning, Hampshire College announced its intent to seek a long-term partner that would allow the college to achieve a sustainable financial future. Details of the announcement are available on the Hampshire website.

Smith College was notified of Hampshire’s intent last week. Since then, Smith has been working to understand the implications of Hampshire’s announcement. Our priority is to provide the best guidance and support to our community, especially those whose areas of work or study intersect with Hampshire College.

I understand that this announcement might raise questions for our community. We will provide updates as we learn more about Hampshire’s planning process going forward.

Since its inception, Hampshire College has been an important force for academic innovation. I hope that a new partnership can sustain that legacy.

Sincerely,

Kathleen McCartney
President

Hampshire College hopes to identify a long-term partner by the end of the semester.

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