Northeastern-Mills merger is official, creates ‘something truly unique in higher education’

group of people sits on college campus lawn
Northeastern students Ankit Mehra, Molly Wang, Abirami Chockalingam and Kristine (Nnemka) Umeh study on Holmgren Meadow at Mills College. Photo by Ruby Wallau for Northeastern University

The presidents of the institutions described it as a history-making milestone that will empower a new generation, while higher education observers called it a first-of-a-kind, forward-thinking collaboration between two iconic institutions.

Mills College at Northeastern University, a partnership that became official Thursday, is the result of a merger of global powerhouse Northeastern University and liberal arts leader Mills College, located in Oakland, California.

Northeastern, with its largest campus in Boston, is now the only university in the United States with comprehensive campuses on both coasts—campuses that include undergraduate and graduate learning, residential life, recreation and research.

The governing boards of both Northeastern and Mills approved the terms of the merger in September. A message of excitement and anticipation of what’s to come was delivered Thursday in an email to members of the Northeastern and Mills community in a joint statement by Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun and Mills College President Elizabeth L. Hillman.

They described the merger as “something truly unique in higher education” and “a transformational step forward for our global community, our university and our mission to advance and uplift society.”

The news was also celebrated by faculty and staff, alumni and alumnae, and community leaders, as well as elected officials and pundits.

Mills is a historically all-women’s college founded in 1852, while Northeastern is a gender-inclusive global university founded in Boston in 1898 with campuses in 12 cities in three countries.

Aoun and Hillman underscored the establishment of the Mills Institute to continue the college’s 170-year legacy and commitment to social justice, gender equity and women’s leadership. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the university and institute will provide an opportunity to uplift more young students and their voices.

“Mills College holds a special place in Oaklanders’ hearts, as it’s always served as a beacon for speaking truth to power and elevating our highest values of social justice,” she said. “Now, as we continue to watch this transition and relationship with Northeastern develop, we’ll be rooting for all students and future alumnae to revitalize these proud traditions, create new ones, and develop the next generation of young, proud, fierce leaders from the East Bay.”

Ryan Craig is managing director of Achieve Partners and author of “A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College.” He said the merger is proof of Northeastern’s standing as a dynamo in higher education.

“As students increasingly opt for higher education options that provide greater certainty of employment outcomes, employer-centric universities like Northeastern will continue to grow – in enrollment, online and in new geographies,” Craig says. “Northeastern’s merger with Mills College provides one of America’s most innovative universities with a beachhead in its most innovative economy.”

Michael B. Horn is the author of seven books on the future of education and a sought-after speaker on the postsecondary conference circuit. No doubt, he said, Northeastern’s new Oakland campus will thrive like its others.

“The merger of Mills College into Northeastern combines two powerful brands to transcend the trend that college mergers are among geographically neighboring institutions,” Horn says. “[It] showcases that powerful strategic opportunities can be realized by leaning into each campuses’ strengths and offering programming and a living experience in two of the most important cities in the world on opposite coasts of the country.”

Meanwhile, Aoun and Hillman pledged to create innovative undergraduate and graduate degree programs and lifelong learning opportunities, while leveraging the strengths of the two institutions.

“Together, we’ll create a future that honors Mills’ values and ensures that the experiences of our students are rich in learning, discovery and impact,” they said.

Prior to the merger, Mills students were given the option of completing their degree programs at Mills or transferring to Northeastern at no additional cost. Mills students will also have access to the university’s experiential learning and student life opportunities. Northeastern has assumed all of Mills’ financial assets, liabilities and contractual obligations.

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