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Here’s how Saint Joseph’s closed its University of the Sciences acquisition

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Saint Joseph’s University completed its acquisition of the University of the Sciences on Wednesday, creating what the Jesuit institution says is one of the three largest private universities in the competitive Philadelphia region.

With the deal officially done, Saint Joseph’s has close to 400 full-time faculty members, an endowment totaling $550 million, annual revenue of $400 million and enrollment of nearly 8,900, counting both undergraduate and graduate students. It has added a new city campus, about five miles away from its suburban campus. And it’s touting the addition of physical therapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy and physician’s assistant programs, giving it a total of 221 academic programs.

Wednesday’s closing ends a process for the University of the Sciences that dates back to the summer of 2020, when it started looking for a partner. The institution, which was founded in 1821 and operated under several names over the years — including the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science — sought additional scale so that its programs could continue into the future.

The University of the Sciences successfully found a partner before its finances forced it to do so —  a notable fact in a world of higher education mergers and acquisitions where colleges are sometimes forced to close after failing to complete deals. Also notable is that the institutions had significant differences. The University of the Sciences was a secular institution being acquired by a Catholic institution, which cast into the limelight the church’s stances such as its opposition to contraception.

That left a lot to discuss with Saint Joseph’s President Mark Reed and Provost Cheryl McConnell, who answered questions about the acquisition and the steps needed to see it through.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

HIGHER ED DIVE: How did the acquisition process go since the agreement was first made public last year?

Here's how Saint Joseph's closed its University of the Sciences acquisition

Cheryl McConnell

Courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University

 

CHERYL MCCONNELL: The sheer scope of the work in the last year is stunning in its depth and breadth. We anticipated that it would be a lot of work, and it was. Also, it was satisfying and exciting work.

It started with the determination of a new university structure, and then it went to the determination of which programs would be continued, modified, taught out, brought over as is, and then it went to workforce planning and to integration and orientation.

With higher ed mergers, you have more groups with a say and a stake in the outcome than you might in other sectors.

Here's how Saint Joseph's closed its University of the Sciences acquisition

Mark Reed

Courtesy of Saint Joseph’s University

 

MARK REED: What makes universities different from, say, for-profit companies is we have constituents: faculty, students, staff, alumni, local civic leaders, accreditors, parents — you name it. And there is a lot of decentralization of authority and a lot of shared governance that makes universities run.

This isn’t four or five people who go into a room with a bunch of lawyers and come out five months later with an answer.

At the same time, you can’t run a university by committee. So there has to be a balance of those particular roles.

Did you run into any unexpected barriers or challenges?

REED: From my perspective, there was not a big one. You have to just constantly remind individuals involved of what is actually happening. 

For example, we are going to have, now, as part of Saint Joseph’s University, a significant footprint in the health professions space. We are going to have programs in physician assistant, physical therapy, occupational therapy and, of course, pharmacy, which is the foundational program that the University of the Sciences was founded on 200 years ago.

It is a very important part of what is a broad-based portfolio that has continued to be grounded in our Jesuit mission and Jesuit tradition, which is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences.

It’s a merger. But you know, the reality is, at the end of the day, it’s one institution. That’s Saint Joseph’s University. The term acquisition isn’t used as frequently, but that’s in effect what it is in a practical reality. I’m the president. Saint Joseph’s University’s board is the board, all of those kinds of things.

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