Mercyhurst University recently announced on Aug. 29 that they will be expanding their health care programs based on the need for professionals in the field. According to the email sent from the President’s Office, the changes that will be occurring are going to take place over the next two years by consolidating Mercyhurst’s North East campus and adding programs to the main Erie campus.
The email that was sent to all Mercyhurst students, faculty and staff stated that all academic programs offered at the North East campus will be moving to the Erie campus to help transform the health care education. The move from North East to Erie is expected to be completed by June 2021.
“We are consolidating it to one space,” Laura Zirkle, Ph. D., Vice President of Student Life, said. “It’s not that we are doing away with a school, but rather moving the programs that are out there to this campus.”
All of the changes to the Erie campus will update older spaces in order to modify classrooms that need to provide for specific program equipment such as nursing, interior design and other health related fields.
Current North East students will not be affected, as only those who enroll by 2021 will be permanently based in Erie, according to the original email sent from the Office of the President. Students and programs at the Corry and Booker T. Washington campuses will also not be affected.
Leanne Roberts, Ph. D., Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, stated that the changes are occurring due to the state of higher education itself changing.
“The demand for two-year, residential, associate degree programs has steadily declined. This coincides with the steady increase in the number of students matriculating with more than a handful of college credits,” Roberts said. “The change is a preparation for the future of higher education at Mercyhurst.”
With the decrease in two-year programs and early graduation on the rise for students, Roberts also cites factors such as the growing demand for professionals in the nursing and allied health fields. More than three-quarters of Mercyhurst students in those majors live close to the Erie campus, potential students inquire about majoring in one of the health professions on the Erie campus and the exceptional need nationwide for professionals to enter the healthcare field are major reasons why the move from North East to Erie is the right decision for the entire Mercyhurst community.
The growth of Mercyhurst’s main campus and the consolidation to the North East campus is part of an initiative entitled “Mission Inspired. Future Ready.”
Some of the changes over the next two years will include an online Master of Science in Nursing degree program and facility improvements across the Erie campus including the Wayne Street Complex and Audrey Hirt Academic Center. These improvements will help to support the occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant and respiratory therapist programs, as well as the nursing programs and their simulation laboratories. This will affect both two- and four-year health care programs.
Zirkle added that the forward thinking behind the changes will be beneficial to Mercyhurst’s programs as a whole.
“This is what allows us to grow,” Zirkle said. “These programs can be much more vibrant and as they grow, we grow.”
Roberts recounted that when the RN to BSN program moved to the Main campus, the enrollment numbers tripled very quickly.
In Mercyhurst’s press release, Joseph G. NeCastro, chair of the Mercyhurst University Board of Trustees, described the urgent need for expanding such disciplines and programs.
“As our community and the nation as a whole work to address today’s health care needs, our mission calls us to expand our focus in these disciplines, where we already maintain a reputation for producing dedicated professionals who understand the critical role that health care plays in transforming communities,” NeCastro said.
While Mercyhurst officials are expressing their gratitude toward North East for housing the additional campus, they “are working with real estate professionals to fill the university’s North East facilities” as described in the press release.
“President Victor is really committed to finding a positive partner for North East and finding someone that will honor what we built there,” Zirkle said.
Some concerns that have been brought up by students on social media include student housing, remodeling of the academic areas and parking.
“We are not anticipating parking to be a bigger issue as a lot of the additional presence will happen at the nontraditional classroom times, like in the evening,” Zirkle said.
Mercyhurst North East holds a heavy commuter population, so the administration is not currently foreseeing major parking or housing issues with the merger.
“Most of the students at North East are commuters from Erie – about 90 percent of them. Those that live on campus are predominantly athletes and live there to participate in sports,” Zirkle said. “We have plenty of housing here. The changes President Victor has made in recent years allows us to make these moves such as increasing the dining services and building Ryan Hall.”
According to Roberts, the remodeling is more about readying the spaces for the simulation and therapy program’s equipment. There will be some departments changing locations pending Middle States approval and working with accreditation standards.
“There were many factors considered when determining how to accommodate all of our Mercyhurst programs fitting on this campus,” Roberts said. “Many of the programs involved in the relocation, whether it is moving from North East to Erie or from one building to another on the Erie campus, have needs associated with equipment and accreditations that had to be considered.”
The Mercyhurst Honors Wing will be moved into Ryan Hall so as to house the Nursing offices. Hirt’s first floor computer lab will be turned into a hospital simulation classroom for the LPN program, while the Graphic Design department will relocate to the 2nd floor of Zurn Hall. The Interior Architecture and Design Department will be moving to the Old Main basement, which will be renovated into a more unique and welcoming space. With these moves, the Wayne Street Complex will be adapted to have enough space for the OTA, PTA and RT programs, which require more space due to the nature of their study.
Zirkle is looking forward to the merging of the North East and Erie student bodies as they will bring a new level of vitality to campus as well as more diversity and opportunities for everyone.
“It will be really exciting to have the associate students here,” Zirkle said. “It will also allow us to have more club sports and with more activities going on, the atmosphere will be a lot of fun.”
Roberts feels confident that the Mercy Mission will be shared more cohesively with the merger between campuses.
“President Victor has created a really lovely Mercy World for all of the students getting two-year degrees or four-year degrees to exist in one place,” Roberts said.
Roberts said that her excitement centers around the growth of the health care programs on campus.
“The job opportunities and the marketplace is just going to increase and the interest that we are seeing is also increasing. It will create synergies across disciplines that we didn’t see years ago,” Roberts said.
Students have been assured regular updates on the developments and milestones of this project. Frequently asked questions are answered at https://www.mercyhurst.edu/future and the original press release can be read at https://www.mercyhurst.edu/news/mercyhurst-announces-major-investment.