By Kim Lux
Mercyhurst North East, 16 W. Division St., is set to close in June 2021and the majority of its students and programs will transfer to the Erie campus, 501 E. 38th St., Erie.
The announcement from Mercyhurst University came on Thursday, Aug. 29. Mercyhurst’s President Michael Victor said phased consolidation of the North East campus is part of a multi-year plan to invest millions of dollars into the university’s health care programs.
Victor said the decision to close Mercyhurst North East was not made lightly.
“Before making this decision we formed a North East task force,” he said. ‘We found that the demographics were changing rather rapidly. Two-year, nonmedical degrees are diminishing. They are either being bumped down to certificate programs or bumped up to four-year bachelor’s programs.
“Also, throughout our research, we found that 90 percent of students in the medical majors were living and commuting from Erie,” Victor added. “The programs will now be closer to the local hospitals and medical facilities, which are all clamoring for health professionals.”
Mercyhurst University plans to spend about $4 million in renovating the Wayne Street Complex and $6 million to upgrade technology and purchase equipment for its health care programs. The investment plan also includes renovating the Audrey Hirt Academic Center.
Victor added the university used the recent transfer of the RN-to-BSN program as an experiment for the consolidation.
“As an experiment, we moved the RN-to-BSN program to Erie last year, and enrollment tripled,” he said.
The decline of private junior colleges across the country also contributed to the decision to consolidate, Victor said.
“Ten years ago, there were 300 private junior colleges, now there’s less than 100,” he said. “It’s expected to continue declining.”
Currently, there are upwards of 550 students enrolled at Mercyhurst North East.
Victor said current students won’t be affected and will complete their degrees at MNE. Students who enroll in Aug. 2020, will attend MNE for one year before attending Mercyhurst University in Erie.
“Current students will see no effect,” Victor said. “North East won’t see an effect until 2021. At that point, students will enroll in Erie.”
Following the consolidation, Victor said students pursuing associate degrees will also be eligible for Mercyhurst University’s varsity teams, but Mercyhurst also plans to increase its club sports.
According to Victor, the MNE campus has 100 full-time employees and an additional 50 part-time employees.
“About 80 percent of people working at our North East campus are from Erie,” he added.
In addition to the nearly a dozen medical degrees being transferred to the Erie campus, MNE’s culinary arts and hospitality management programs will also be offered at Mercyhurst University.
“The culinary arts program will fit in quite nicely at our Erie campus,” Victor said.
Mercyhurst North East’s Women with Children program, which provides on-campus housing for single mothers pursuing degrees, will be offered in Erie.
“The Women with Children program will indeed transfer to Erie,” Victor said. “The university owns several properties that will be converted for the program.”
Victor added he hopes that the university will be able to further serve its mission by moving all its programs to the Erie campus and investing in health care programs.
“We have always been about accessibility and aiding the underserved population,” he said. “By bringing programs to Erie, we’re hoping to serve the underserved minorities in the inner city. Our Erie campus is right on the bus line and may be easier for some people in the city to get to than North East. We’ll fulfill our mission and hopefully attract more students.”
The university’s Municipal Police Training Academy, located at 5999 Route 89, will remain in North East.
“We hope to expand the police academy,” Victor said. “We are currently in talks with the North East Borough Police Department to move them into the building as well.
“The building is also home to our multimillion-dollar cadaver lab,” he added. “Students in the health care fields, and other programs at Mercyhurst, will continue to use that resource.”
While the consolidation won’t take place until 2021, Victor said in the meantime Mercyhurst is dedicated to finding the right fit for the property, which is located at the site of the former St. Mary’s Seminary.
“North East has been a great partner to us and we want to help take care of them and find a good partner,” he said. “We’re hoping to find a for-profit business. We’ve had a few reach-outs already.
“Our goal is to have a business with more than 100 employees move into the property,” Victor added. “That’d be a nice economic boost for North East and get the property on the tax rolls.”
North East Area Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Holly Ferruggia said while she is sad to see Mercyhurst leave North East, she’s excited to see what will become of the campus.
“The community of North East was instrumental in bringing Mercyhurst here so we’re sad to see them go,” Ferruggia said. “It’s a major disappointment to see them leave. However, I’m confident that something great will fill the space. I know we have a lot of good people working hard to find something that’ll benefit the community.”