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St. Joe’s announces merger with another college, this one with nursing programs

St. Joe’s said it has a “definitive agreement” to merge with the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences in Lancaster, the school founded by Lancaster General Hospital, which is owned by Penn.

Students walk on campus at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Students walk on campus at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.Read moreMonica Herndon / Staff Photographer

Less than a year after St. Joseph’s University merged with the University of the Sciences, the Catholic school Wednesday announced plans to merge again, this time allowing it to add nursing programs, which has long been a goal.

St. Joe’s said it has a “definitive agreement” to merge with the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences in Lancaster, the school founded by Lancaster General Hospital, which is the largest hospital in Lancaster County and now owned by the University of Pennsylvania.

Over the next year, the two private institutions will plan for the integration, with the merger to take effect next January following necessary accreditation and government approvals, the schools said in a news release.

» READ MORE: The devil is dead. . The hawk lives on. USciences is officially part of St. Joseph’s University.

With a main campus that straddles Philadelphia and Lower Merion and a second campus in University City, St. Joe’s enrolls 7,863 students, while Pennsylvania College has nearly 2,000 students.

St. Joe’s said the merger will broaden its campus beyond Philadelphia and add more than 20 nursing and allied health programs to its academic roster. The programs range from the certificate level to the doctoral level, the school said.

“It has long been our strategy to add nursing to our list of offerings for our students,” St. Joe’s Interim President Cheryl A. McConnell said in a statement.

Mary Grace Simcox, president of the Lancaster college, also touted the benefits.

“By becoming part of Saint Joseph’s, we have an extraordinary opportunity to continue PA College’s valued role in the education and professional development of the regional healthcare workforce while expanding the geographic and demographic reach of its critically needed nursing and allied health programs,” she said in a statement.

Founded in 1903 as a nursing school, Pennsylvania College didn’t become a college until 2001 and didn’t receive Middles States Commission on Higher Education accreditation until 2006. It awarded its first bachelor’s in nursing in 2009 and took on its current name. Penn acquired it in 2015, when the college also began offering graduate courses.

» READ MORE: St. Joe's explores selling or leasing some or all of former USciences campus

The college, which had $38 million in revenue in fiscal 2021, has significant financial ties to Penn Medicine, according to its audited financial statement for the year ended June 30, 2021. As of that date, the college owed Penn’s Lancaster General $60.8 million. College employees participate in a Penn Medicine Lancaster General retirement plan and the college’s investments are mixed in with Penn’s investment fund.

St. Joe’s has been in talks about a potential merger with the college since 2020, a year before the proposed merger with University of the Sciences was announced, said Liz Kennedy Walsh, a St. Joe’s spokesperson. But the talks grew more serious last summer, she said. Five boards had to vote on the plan — those of the two colleges, as well as those at Lancaster General, Penn and Penn Medicine — Walsh said.

She declined to disclose financial terms of the planned merger.

» READ MORE: St. Joe's president announces his departure less than a month before merger is final

The announcement comes as St. Joe’s continues to search for its next president. Mark C. Reed, who championed the merger idea, left in October to become president of Loyola University Chicago, another Jesuit university, and McConnell, then his provost, stepped in as interim.

Reed was at the helm when St. Joe’s announced in 2021 that it was considering a merger with USciences, which was five miles away. The merger was expected to increase St. Joe’s enrollment to more than 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students, its endowment to an excess of a half-billion dollars, its operating budget to more than $300 million and its assets to $1.2 billion.

But during the pandemic, St. Joe’s, like other universities, lost enrollment. The number of students grew this fall because of the merger, which took effect June 1, but without the merger, the school has said its enrollment would have been down.

McConnell oversaw the new merger agreement with the Lancaster college while having her interim role. She is not a candidate for the permanent president’s job, Walsh said.

Asked if St. Joe’s was considering any other mergers, Walsh said there’s nothing else in the works.