Chicago’s Harrington College of Design on Wednesday abruptly announced it will merge with Columbia College.
Jim McCoy, Harrington’s vice president of operations, told AN the school will no longer accept new students, but won’t shut the door on its existing student body.
“Everyone that’s enrolled in Harrington, we will teach them out,” said McCoy. Students in the downtown college’s associate, graduate, and bachelor programs will continue to take Harrington classes through August 2018—even students who took a semester off can finish their degrees, McCoy said. “We do not want to lock them out.”
After the summer term, at which point Harrington will vacate its leased space in Chicago’s Loop, students will attend class in facilities owned by Columbia College. Students who complete their degrees within about a year can request a diploma from Harrington, McCoy said, but bachelors finishing their degrees after that time will earn credentials from their new alma mater, Columbia College.
McCoy said declining enrollment had put pressure on Harrington’s administration to make the move now or face the possibility of shutting students out in a few years while they were still part-way through their academic programs.
“It just became obvious,” McCoy said, “to get back to where it was financially stable would have taken years, and we felt this was in the best interest of the students.”
Over the last five years McCoy estimated Harrington’s enrollment has declined by 30–40 percent. He credits increasing competition, including from online programs, for the drop.
But also to blame may be the college’s select program offerings. For 84 years Harrington has offered highly specialized programs in graphic design, interior design, and photography.
“Those are great fields. They will continue to be great fields,” said McCoy. But they could not sustain business at Harrington.
Like many private education companies, Career Education has struggled with declining enrollment over the past few years and has been losing money. The company’s 2014 revenue fell to $736.9 million from $834.1 million in the year prior, and its loss widened to $178.2 million from $164.3 million in 2013.
“We’re saddened,” said McCoy. “We are. We are happy to have been able to partner with Columbia College, and the underlying thing is we’re not closing the door on our students.”