FAIRFIELD — Sacred Heart University is backing out of a planned partnership to absorb portions of the University of Bridgeport.
The pullout was made public on Monday with a late morning message to the Sacred Heart community.
Sacred Heart, along with Goodwin University in East Hartford and Paier College in Hamden, announced on the UB campus in June that it would take over buildings and programs at the struggling 97-year-old higher education institution.
Sacred Heart initially said it would take over five programs, including engineering, the School of Chiropractic, a graduate program in nutrition, some education certificate programs and a program in counselor education. More recently that was down to two programs: nutrition and chiropractic.
When Sacred Heart University officials spoke to a Bridgeport City Council committee last week, SHU administrators said they were looking at “one or two programs.”
Goodwin University was — and still is — expected to take the lion’s share of UB programs with Paier College taking just UB’s school of design. In both cases, the programs would remain on the Bridgeport campus.
In a memo to the Sacred Heart community, President John Petillo said after a due diligence process and an attempt to verify the finances, SHU is unable to move forward with this acquisition.
“The enrollment projections, and the corresponding financial projections, provided to us by UB’s principal lender and its consulting firm when the letter of intent was signed, did not materialize,” Petillo said. “The enrollment numbers turned out to be significantly less than what we were led to believe. We made another offer, in line with the new projections, and that was turned down.”
Deborah Noack, a Sacred Heart spokeswoman, said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a strain on college finances across the nation, had nothing to do with the decision.
Petillo said from the beginning, SHU was motivated by a desire to serve students in our area.
“Admittedly, this was a complicated arrangement with many partners, but we were hopeful that we could make it work for all involved,” Petillo said. “In the end, an upside may be that our pulling out makes it less complicated for everyone else to move forward.”
Goodwin President Mark Scheinberg, who said he learned of the pullout on Monday morning, said the change does not materially hurt the partnership in any way and actually makes it less complicated.
Sacred Heart was down to taking two programs in health science with shared labs and faculty with other health science programs Goodwin intends on acquiring. That now includes chiropractic medicine and nutrition.
“This in some ways simplifies the entire thing,” Scheinberg said. “What they were taking was not a big piece of the whole. We wish Sacred Heart well.”
Scheinberg said his board continues to be excited about and committed to investing heavily to make the partnership work. Without going into specifics, Scheinberg has said Goodwin is spending tens of millions of dollars on the venture.
“We think the University of Bridgeport has a great future,” Scheinberg said.
UB’s enrollment dip, cited by Sacred Heart, was not as concerning to Goodwin.
“It was a little bit less, didn’t scare us at all,” Scheinberg said without getting into specifics. “This deal is not about this semester. This deal is about committing to Bridgeport forever. We just have to get over this hump.”
UB Acting President Stephen Healey said he learned of Sacred Heart’s decision Monday as well.
“It’s not a huge surprise,” Healey said. “It would have been lovely to have SHU involved but it’s OK. That’s my reaction to it. We are going to continue to move forward.’
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who was at UB along with Gov. Ned Lamont when the partnership was announced, on Monday, participated in a conference call about changes in partnership participants. Afterwards, city officials, in a statement, said the partnership with UB, Goodwin and Paier remains steadfast.
“While Sacred Heart may not financially participate in this acquisition … Goodwin is prepared to take on the lion’s share of UB programs, remains committed, and is looking forward to merging the Hartford and Bridgeport campuses,” city officials said. “The effects of Goodwin and Paier acting as the sole partners now allow the institutions to better streamline expenses on the universities’ services, as well as necessary resources for students including educators, staff and programs.”
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