Wheelock College

Boston, MA

Boston University

Boston, MA
Wheelock CollegeWheelock College Exterior
Year: 2018

The Challenge

Wheelock College, founded in 1888, was an institution dedicated to preparing professionals in the human service professions (e.g., teacher education, social work, child life). As a small liberal arts institution with a public mission, Wheelock strived to enroll students across the New England region. In recent years, Wheelock students were entering college with fewer resources and graduating with higher debt loads. Additionally, Wheelock was experiencing significant enrollment shortfalls that were likely to result in financial challenges in later years. The college’s trustees had considered a strategic partnership several years earlier, but waited to hire a new president in 2016 before assessing how to move forward.

In 2017, the Wheelock trustees authorized the sale of the college’s President’s house and a historic residence hall in order to ensure a balanced budget. Boston University (BU), a research-intensive, comprehensive university had a school of education that had once been a leader in teacher development. The School of Education was a pioneer in language and literacy, special education, and school administration with an international student body and a strong legacy of leadership in education and related fields. However, enrollments were down, and the university needed to reconsider how the school could have an impact globally and in the city of Boston while contributing significantly to the research profile of the university.

The Opportunity

Boston University saw in Wheelock College an opportunity to build on the strong legacy of its School of Education. Wheelock had an endowment of $63 million. Its campus, valued at approximately $120 million, was located only a half-mile from BU, and Wheelock’s seasoned faculty held strong, practical ties throughout the greater Boston community.

BU leadership proposed a statutory merger with Wheelock that would eliminate Wheelock’s $36 million debt, provide a teach-out for Wheelock’s 1200 undergraduate and graduate students, and provide indefinite employment for Wheelock’s tenured faculty. Additionally, BU would merge Wheelock’s School of Education and Family Studies with its School of Education to create Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at BU. Wheelock’s president would serve as the interim dean, and the small college’s endowment would be invested in the new college. Additionally, BU would commit to hiring three additional senior faculty in the new college and would provide $7 million in one-time financial support to launch new programmatic efforts. Wheelock staff would be offered positions at BU that matched their qualifications, and the Wheelock Board of Trustees would be able to name two trustees to serve on BU’s Board. The Wheelock campus, today referred to as BU’s Fenway Campus, would be integrated into the larger BU footprint in Boston.


Three years after the merger, there has been tremendous success.  More than 92 percent of Wheelock students who transitioned to BU have graduated or will graduate in 2021. Thirty-one faculty members from Wheelock College transitioned to positions at BU and are helping to establish the new Wheelock College. Three new centers have been established at BU Wheelock focused on Education Policy, Community-based Evaluations, and Early Childhood Development. Several new faculty members have been hired to expand expertise in STEM Education, Counseling Psychology, Deaf Education, Education Policy, and Special Education. The college has established strategic partnerships in Boston’s neighborhoods that will assist in the professional preparation of teachers, counselors, and other human development professionals. The alumni groups have merged and the college has raised more than $10 million in scholarship and programmatic support in the past two years.

While enrollments nationwide continue to be a challenge in education schools and colleges, BU Wheelock has launched a new college-wide PhD program, a new professional EdD program for school leaders, and is expanding online initiatives that will allow for broader reach. The college’s external research funding has continued to increase year-over-year and, according to U.S. News and World Report, BU Wheelock ranks 39th in the nation among all schools and colleges of education and 10th among the privates.

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