By Corey Davidson ’16
Merrimack College is half-way through its 10-year plan to “reinvigorate the identity as a Catholic college, and to lay the foundation for the college to grow in size, diversity and stature.”
Associate Vice-president of Communications James Chiavelli said the school has met most of its goals for the first five years.
The college has hit ungraduate enrollment of about 3,000. When President Christopher Hopey took office this number was just under 2,000. The graduate program has also seen massive growth, by adding a number of master’s programs it has been able to increase enrollment from a mere couple dozen students five years ago to 450 graduate students today.
The plan calls for the school to further grow enrollment. With that comes the challenge of expanding academic programs, facilities, faculty, parking as well as more residential living spaces.
Last week, Hopey presented the college’s Board of Trustees with the broad outline for further expansion. There will be another meeting in March involving trustees, deans, and senior staff members where they will formulate a more strategic timeline after all options have been properly weighed out and a plan of action will be put in place.
According to Chiavelli, there are certain fields in which the school wants to heavily focus on, including Health Sciences, Engineering, Communications, and Psychology as these are important academic growth areas in the country’s job market.
In order to continue expansion, the college will not only need to build more residential buildings to house students, but will need high tech academic spaces and labs to allow students to gain more experiential learning.
North Campus remains unfinished as three more buildings are still set to go up. Two dorm buildings will offer living spaces for some 150 students and another building will offer more academic classrooms and will have some type of student center aspect as well, according to Chiavelli.
Merrimack owns a lot of land, but the challenge to all this is that some of the land is legally unbuildable because of wetlands. The residential parking lot is surrounded by wetlands, so at some point the only place to go is up, Chiavelli said. It seems students are well of the issue of parking on campus and building a parking structure is something that is being considered, but would be very time consuming endeavor that poses a lot of issues. Specifically, where to put cars while the parking is offline.
“We’re here to educate students. We’re a non-profit educational organization, but at some point it still needs to make economic sense and you need a certain number of students or your institution just doesn’t thrive, and to do the kind of things we want and feel we need to educationally we need to take in a certain amount of revenue,” Chiavelli said.
There are really two ways for a college to get revenue, which is tuition and fundraising. The college is ramping up fundraising next year and will launch a new “Capital Campaign” in hopes to bring in revenue for academic buildings and athletic facilities. There are no plans for the college to drastically increase the cost of tuition in the near future, Chiavelli said.
Expansions of athletic facilities are a crucial part of the plan.. The plan includes a new track and field facility as well as a number of new playing fields. There is some discussion about a bubble or dome in order to allow teams to practice year round. The cost of this is still being worked out, but with the continued growth of both varsity and club sports, more athletic facilities are needed.
There has been speculation for years about Merrimack College moving the athletic program up to Division 1. Moving a school to Division 1 is a difficult endeavor because of both NCAA legislation and changes that need to be made within the college. Athletics are a great recruiting tool and a great fundraising tool that provides an opportunity for students to have a richer experience, Chiavelli said. By becoming a Division 1 program this would help the college to gain national recognition and would certainly attract more prospective students. It is hard to say when this change may occur, but be assured it is in the foreseeable future.
Photo by Kevin Salemme