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BGSU to take over operation of Mercy College

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    Bowling Green State University Vice President of Partnerships Sue Houston, left, Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers, center left, Mercy North CEO Bob Baxter, center right, and Mercy College President Susan Wajert discuss upcoming plans for BGSU to take ownership of Mercy College during a meeting at The Blade on Tuesday.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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    Bowling Green State University Vice President of Partnerships Sue Houston, left, and Bowling Green State University President Rodney Rogers, center, listen as CEO Bob Baxter discusses upcoming plans for BGSU to take ownership of Mercy College during a meeting at The Blade on Tuesday.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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Bowling Green State University and Mercy Health have signed a letter of intent for BGSU to take over operations of Mercy College of Ohio, a move officials say will increase education opportunities in nursing and related programs in the area.

The letter, signed Monday, is the first step in what officials describe as a “two or three-year” process that would bring the 100-year-old Catholic college, its students, and faculty under the control of the public university.

“What became clear to us is we have a lot of shared values, including in the importance of securing professionals in the workforce as well as a commitment to bettering our communities,” said Mercy Health-Toledo President and CEO Bob Baxter.

Mercy College, which is sponsored by Mercy Health, offers master’s, bachelor’s, and associate degrees as well as certificate programs to about 1,300 students in Toledo and 200 in Youngstown, and employs 120 faculty and staff. 

Officials declined to provide specific financial details of the takeover, citing ongoing discussions. They also said it was too early in the process to discuss any physical expansion on the BGSU campus or whether instruction would continue at Mercy College’s primary location on Madison Avenue near downtown Toledo.

“We are committed to ensuring that our nursing students and those related programs have first-class facilities to ensure they are well-prepared to be successful in their careers and be health care leaders in their community,” said BGSU President Rodney Rogers.

Leaders say the move will strengthen educational programs and increase the number of health-care professionals serving the region. 

“Demand for nursing and other allied health professions far outstrips the availability of such as we sit here today,” Mr. Baxter said. “It’s the function of an aging workforce as well as an aging population. One of the things we’re very concerned about is how you secure a pipeline of continued nursing and allied health professionals to serve northwest Ohio and beyond.”

Discussions accelerated after University of Toledo officials in May alerted BGSU of their intention to unwind a nearly 50-year partnership where nursing students from both universities spent the first two years on their respective campuses and the final two at UT for classes and clinical training.

That two-school partnership created a situation where the number of students entering pre-nursing classes outnumbered the available spots in the upperclassman program, Mr. Rogers said.

By BGSU assuming the operations of Mercy College, that problem will be solved.

The university already had a relationship with Mercy College through the BG Edge program, which allows Bowling Green students to earn a dual degree with the college.

Mr. Baxter said the financial challenges of running a hospital-based college also informed this decision.

“As we looked down the road to what needed to happen, we understood that we needed to secure the future for that educational pipeline because the status quo wasn’t going to be sustainable for us,” he said. Students entering programs in 2018 will see no change, while those beginning in 2019 are expected to be the first class to participate in the new agreement.

Officials will be mindful to “preserve the historical legacy” of the college’s Catholic origins and the founding Sisters of Mercy, Mr. Rogers said, though how exactly that will work in the context of joining a public university is still being determined.

Mr. Rogers also addressed potential concerns from staff.

“We would not want any of the Mercy College faculty and staff to think that this will somehow adversely impact them,” he said. “They are doing great work and we want to make sure that we continue to have great faculty and staff to build upon.”

Any deal requires approval from various entities, including the U.S. Department of Education, accreditation agency Higher Learning Commission, and the Ohio Board of Nursing.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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