By Bonnie Jean Adams
The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) notified Roosevelt University and Robert Morris University Illinois, both located in the South Loop, that it had approved their joint application to make Robert Morris part of Roosevelt. The HLC accredits colleges and universities in the central United States, including Illinois.
The integrated university will continue under the name Roosevelt University. Ali Malekzadeh, PhD, will remain president of Roosevelt University while Mablene Kreuger, MBA, current president of Robert Morris University, will become chief operating officer of Roosevelt’s Schaumburg Campus. The merger means Robert Morris will operate under Roosevelt’s name as Robert Morris Experiential College of Roosevelt University and oversee many of Robert Morris’s current programs.
Roosevelt University, the larger of the two institutions, counts an enrollment of about 4,100 students compared to Robert Morris University’s 1,800. Roosevelt’s offerings include a liberal arts and sciences core and a set of online programs. It also runs a broader set of graduate programs than does Robert Morris, which focuses on career and brings two-year programs to the merger.
Robert Morris’s bachelor of science in nursing and associate degrees in allied health will complement Roosevelt’s baccalaureate programs in biology, biochemistry, allied health, and health science administration, and Robert Morris’s master of information systems program will fold into Roosevelt’s computer science program. Robert Morris’s associate degree in culinary arts complements Roosevelt’s baccalaureate in hospitality management.
The Roosevelt-Robert Morris merger represents a first step in addressing lower enrollment. Both universities have seen enrollment declines, which means shrinking tuition revenue; many private colleges and universities depend on tuition and therefore face difficulties when their student populations wane. Both Roosevelt and Robert Morris have lost students and shown signs of financial stress in recent years, with Robert Morris under financial pressure for much of the last decade. Roosevelt leaders expect a balanced budget in the coming year. Malekzadeh said projections show the budget balancing after acquiring Robert Morris.
Integration, not assimilation
Malekzadeh described the merger as “an integration of the two schools’ cultures, not an assimilation.” Both Malekzadeh and Krueger said it combines the best of both schools. When asked what contributed to the merger’s success so far, Malekzadeh said, “magic,” and both Malekzadeh and Krueger believe the merger will conclude as a seamless transition for students, faculty, and staff.
The institutions set up 35 task forces composed of administrators, faculty, staff, and students to ensure all voices are heard.
“We are just at the beginning phase of seeing what the future looks like,” Malekzadeh said. “I was reading in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the challenges across the nation; about how 60% of universities and colleges did not meet their enrollment goals this past fall. The challenge we’re pushing against is this nonsense about, ‘Is college worth it?’ It is a substantial investment. Right now, our students, in one semester, are paying more for their books than some people used to pay for a whole semester of college tuition. They’re taking on more debt, more challenges. So we need to be there with all kinds of academic programs to make it easier for them and show the path, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
While leaders aim to combine the two universities to create a single institution to better serve student demand for different types of education and programs, the reality requires identifying what employers and students need, Krueger said.
“Students still are looking for a degree that is useful to making money to provide for their family and, especially for first generation students, that link to career has to be there because many of them have obligations while they’re freshmen in college or even in high school,” Krueger explained. “So helping them see how they can build on and stack those credentials continues to be important. They want to know what degree leads to what career and ‘How am I going to pay for it?’ and ‘Is that a return on my investment?’ Outcomes have to show students the need to put education to work right away.”
Krueger added, “We have a number of advisory boards, and Roosevelt does as well, and we’ll be building some new ones, to be sure that employers in very specific geographical areas and industries are willing to work with our students to provide internships. We need to help students see that they have many more options. We have to continue to find out what employers need, and that’s what programs we will build.”
As the first in her family to attend college, Krueger is especially passionate about first-generation students’ strengths and challenges. Malekzadeh’s belief that access to higher education is every American’s right and one of the pathways to living the American dream has resulted in expanded services for veterans and students with disabilities and new programs for multicultural students.
“The future of us begins with them,” Malekzadeh said. “The commitment is there. The goal is to expand opportunity.”
For more information, call (312) 341-3500 or log on to roosevelt.edu or robertmorris.edu. Roosevelt is located 430 S. Michigan Ave., and Robert Morris is located at 401 S. State St.