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Building a more vibrant community: PNCA merger opens opportunities for dual degree programs

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

Chrissy Ewald

Staff writer

Art by Maizy Goerlitz.

Three months after Willamette University (WU) [announced a planned merger] with the Pacific Northwest College of Arts (PNCA), talks to bring the PNCA into the Willamette fold as its fifth degree program remain ongoing. While the exact timeline of the merger is in the hands of the Oregon Department of Education, both schools hope that approval will be secured by the first week of January 2021. Meanwhile, merger teams are working on creating new curricula that will create opportunities for students from both schools.

While PNCA and Willamette students can currently [take classes] at the other college through the Oregon Alliance of Colleges and Universities, having equivalent prerequisites can be a problem, especially for non-art majors. PNCA students all complete a “foundation year” in which they learn the basics of arts higher education and explore a wide variety of arts disciplines. Willamette students, especially non-art majors, do not have an equivalent arts foundation.

Ruth Feingold, the Willamette Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences who spent the fall semester working as special assistant to the PNCA president and provost for coordinating the merger, explained that with the merger, “there is the possibility for having some special classes designed for Willamette students that don’t necessarily require all the background.” These could include, for example, classes in PNCA’s state-of-the-art printmaking studio. With the considerable distance between the PNCA and WU campuses, Feingold discussed the potential for study-away semesters at both institutions for students interested in taking a full semester course load of in-person classes at the other school’s campus. PNCA students might be interested in Willamette courses on sustainability to supplement their Art and Ecology minor, costuming or fashion courses that approach the subject from a historical or theatrical perspective, and women’s and gender studies.

Another possibility Feingold raised was establishing 3+2, 3+1 or 4+1 degree programs that would involve both WU and PNCA. Willamette undergrads might pursue a Master in Fine Arts degree at PNCA, or PNCA students could get a Master in Business Administration at Atkinson. While students could do that before the merger, it will now be easier to design combination programs.

Some Willamette students have wondered why Willamette is merging with PNCA, especially during a pandemic and economic recession. This news comes only a year after Claremont School of Theology (CST) partially relocated its campus to Willamette as part of a similar merger. Feingold said that Willamette is aiming for a student body of about 4,000 students in order to make Willamette a mid-sized institution. While there is an economic dimension to Willamette absorbing new programs, the [FAQ page] for the merger on Willamette’s website says the merger is not a sign that Willamette is struggling financially. The main goal of these kinds of mergers is to enrich the educational experience of all students involved, and Feingold said that beyond the efficiency of having a larger school, this merger is an opportunity to build a more “vibrant community” on the WU campus. Feingold expressed excitement about the potential having 400 new art undergraduates could have on the diversity of perspectives present in the CAS: “As we’re trying to teach students how to look at the world from a variety of different perspectives, [the addition of PNCA students is] an additional perspective that has been sequestered in a very small part of our curriculum, but could really spread out more broadly.”

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