- Lewis University, a Catholic institution in Illinois, will take over St. Augustine College, another private nonprofit institution in the state, the colleges announced Tuesday.
- The institutions’ respective governing boards unanimously approved the deal, which is still subject to state, federal and accreditor approvals. St. Augustine officials said they expect the merger to formally wrap up by the end of this year and that the two institutions will operate under the Lewis name by spring 2024.
- Both colleges said students should see no disruption while they wait for the regulatory green light.
The colleges cast the merger as a way for Lewis — which at 6,500 students is the eighth largest private nonprofit college in Illinois — to reach more bilingual learners and Hispanic students in the greater Chicago area, where St. Augustine is based.
St. Augustine, founded in 1980, was the first bilingual higher education institution in the Midwest.
However, like many small private nonprofits in recent years, it has suffered continual enrollment declines, dropping from more than 1,500 students in fall 2010 to about 730 in fall 2021, according to the latest available federal data.
Several other small colleges announced in the last couple of months they will either close or merge, often citing challenges recruiting students and managing pandemic-induced financial stress.
Compared to St. Augustine, Lewis is a larger institution. It was founded in 1932 as Holy Name Technical School, an exclusively male institution that opened with 15 students.
Not until the 1960s did Lewis start shifting into the Lasallian tradition. Lasallian institutions are affiliated with the De La Salle Brothers, a Roman Catholic religious teaching order.
Lewis also experienced rapid growth, reaching 2,000 students by 1970. Around this time, the university considered a merger with what was then the College of St. Francis, another Illinois institution now known as the University of St. Francis.
Now Lewis is the one expanding with its acquisition of the St. Augustine campus. Lewis has three other campuses, including one in New Mexico.
“Our two institutions are well-matched in mission and values,” David Livingston, Lewis University’s president, said in a statement. “We fill a unique niche within higher education, serving students from all walks of life with affordable programs that deliver a liberal arts core and an emphasis on career and workforce preparation.”
In their statements on the merger, both institutions drew attention to Chicago’s fast-growing Hispanic and Latino population. Latino people will comprise more than 30% of the region’s population by 2040, according to the Chicago government.
“And yet only about 30 percent of Hispanic adults in Illinois have a college credential,” St. Augustine officials said. “By equipping our students for success in today’s marketplace, we can be important in building an equitable, economically thriving Chicagoland.”