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Oct 31, 2001

DePaul University/Barat College Alliance Strengthens Both Institutions; Represents Wave of the Future for Small Liberal Arts Colleges

When students returned this fall to Barat College in Lake Forest, Ill., they witnessed a transformation that an increasing number of students at small, liberal arts colleges across the country may see in the near future, one made possible by partnering with a larger university that brings a wealth of opportunity to campuses needing a helping hand.

Barat College and DePaul University spent the summer implementing an educational alliance signed in February 2001 that enabled financially troubled Barat to continue its educational mission by becoming DePaul’s ninth college. This was done in a way that preserved Barat's identity while furthering DePaul's desire to grow its enrollment. Upon their return, students could enroll in new academic programs and were dazzled by new technology in classrooms, Internet connections and cable TV in every residence hall room, and a $6.2 million investment in campus infrastructure.

But that's just the beginning.

Plans call for the Barat Campus to grow in the next five years from the fewer than 800 students it had before the alliance, to a mix of 1,000 undergraduates and 1,500 part-time graduate students studying on a campus that offers not only classes from the newly formed Barat College of DePaul, but from several of DePaul's other colleges as well. Area high school guidance counselors and junior college transfer coordinators have given favorable reviews to the new opportunities, so optimism abounds.

“The objective that was established, namely building on the strengths of the two institutions, allowed us to reach an agreement that preserves the tradition of Barat College, while providing DePaul an opportunity to further its mission of providing access to education,” said DePaul’s Executive Vice President for Operations Kenneth McHugh. “It was clearly an opportunity to advance DePaul's mission in a most economical matter when one considers the cost of providing a new campus and the capacity already available at Barat, which was underutilized.”

Since this time last fall, at least six mergers of higher-education institutions have been announced across the country, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Academic alliances include Georgia Baptist College of Nursing in Atlanta, which has become part of Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Also, Alliant University, known until September 2000 as the California School of Professional Psychology, is merging with U.S. International University to become a the five-campus Alliant International University. And another Catholic institution, Marymount College, a women’s college in Tarrytown, N.Y., will become a satellite campus of Fordham University, a Roman Catholic institution based in the Bronx. Some of the fueling behind this trend, according to The Chronicle include the fallout from Wall Street’s bear market combined with more students wanting to go to a larger, better-known institution for a brand-name degree, and increasing competition from state universities, which attempt to replicate the small college experience through honors programs.

Barat College definitely felt the shift in enrollments from small, liberal arts colleges. Founded by the Religious Order of the Sacred Heart as a women’s academy in 1858, Barat relocated to Lake Forest in 1904 and became co-educational in 1982. Although it has served as a haven for working adult students, students with children, as well as traditional-age resident students, Barat struggled financially for many years to attract the 1,200 students it needed to break even. Its modest endowment hovered around $2 million.

Conversely, the century-old DePaul has grown exponentially over the past two decades and became the largest Catholic university in the nation in 1998. Founded in 1898 by Vincentian Fathers from the Congregation of the Mission, DePaul evolved from a city school to one that offers 130 programs on two Chicago and six suburban campuses, including Barat. Official enrollment for fall 2001 was 21,364 students, and its endowment now stands at $198 million.

From a business perspective, incorporating Barat into the DePaul family meant the opportunity to attract new brands of students – ones living in Chicago’s northern suburbs who would be attracted to DePaul’s national reputation and/or those who crave the small-campus, a major contrast to DePaul’s two bustling urban campuses in Chicago's Loop and Lincoln Park neighborhoods.

“Through the Barat alliance, we are bringing DePaul into the backyard of students in Lake County, a market where we will have a much stronger presence than ever before,” said DePaul’s Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Raymond Kennelly. “We’ve created a different kind of small college, one that attracts students seeking an intimate campus, but has access to an expansive network of resources that a major university brings to bear.”

During the planning stage, McHugh, Richard Meister, DePaul executive vice president of academic affairs and Sheila Smith, who was acting CEO and chair of Barat’s board of trustees as the alliance was being formed, worked closely together to frame a plan.

When talks between the two parties began, Meister noted that models for such an alliance could range from Barat being a tenant of sorts in the DePaul system, to a takeover—and neither scenario was a good solution in this case. Rather, the discussions soon focused on ways to strengthen the academic and missions of both institutions, he said. “DePaul and Barat have similar commitments to social justice and providing access to quality academic programs,” Meister said. “In addition to fostering Barat’s liberal arts tradition, this alliance may increase the availability of technology programs in the region.”

All full-time tenured and tenure-track Barat faculty were invited to join DePaul's faculty and will continue to work on the same terms and conditions as their counterparts on other DePaul campuses. The majority of existing Barat staff also joined their respective departments at DePaul as part of the integration process.

New Barat College of DePaul students will be able to complete their degrees completely on the Barat Campus or transfer to other DePaul campuses if they choose, and vice versa. Returning sophomores, juniors and seniors will graduate from their programs within the existing Barat College. In the fall of 2002, every new student must enroll in Barat College of DePaul. All Barat faculty members will teach out returning students in their existing programs without disruption. The last Barat College legacy class will graduate in spring 2005.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education recently approved 15 new programs that DePaul may offer on the Barat Campus. Eventually, they will be expanded. For the next few years, traditional Barat majors will be augmented by seven of DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences degrees, in addition to four new multidisciplinary majors.

These unique interdisciplinary concepts—in the areas of science, the social sciences, humanities and leadership—will be in place for fall 2002 when the new Barat College of DePaul's freshman class will have completed their common first-year program of study and students begin to branch out into their majors.

“Barat faculty are working closely with Lincoln Park and Loop faculty to develop high-quality academic programs for this campus,” said Jerry Cleland, dean for Academic Affairs for the Barat Campus.

In Meister’s eyes, the alliance is a true triumph because it will allow DePaul to serve an additional 2,500 full-time and part-time students and establish a second residential campus. And, he added, Barat Campus and Barat College will provide the next generation of faculty and administrators with resources necessary to pursue future academic and mission-related opportunities.