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Dive Brief:

  • The University of Redlands, a nonprofit institution in Southern California, plans to acquire Presidio Graduate School, a nonprofit operating in the San Francisco area, after the graduate school determined its financial outlook required it to find a partner or close.
  • The agreement will give Presidio, which has operated hybrid programming including weekend residencies around the Bay Area, a permanent home at a Marin County campus about 15 miles northwest of San Francisco. University of Redlands took on that campus in 2019, when it acquired San Francisco Theological Seminary.
  • Adding Presidio will offset declines in the number of MBA students at University of Redlands since the onset of the pandemic. University of Redlands currently has about 300 MBA students.

Dive Insight:

The acquisition still needs accreditor approval, but it’s expected to close at the end of June. If it does, it would represent a homecoming of sorts for Presidio. The graduate school’s predecessor, World College West, was founded in 1973 in the same Marin County location that it is to inhabit after the University of Redlands deal closes.

Presidio has been through many iterations since then — offering nondegree courses geared toward midlife adults beginning in 1993, developing a bachelor’s completion program with Vermont’s Goddard College in 1999, and offering an MBA under an affiliation with Alliant International University in 2003.

It took its current name in 2009 and gained independent accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission in 2014. From 2018 to 2021, it had a partnership with Amity University, a nonprofit education group based in Asia. That agreement gave Amity several seats on Presidio’s governing board, and it also included funding for Presidio.

Presidio touts a focus on leadership and graduates who want to create “a better world and healthier planet.” But the institution is very small — it has 130 students, 12 full-time employees and a few dozen part-time employees, including adjunct faculty that typically number 20 or 25 per semester.

It has swung between losses and net income in recent years. In fiscal 2020, it lost about $240,000, then posted $1.1 million in net income in 2021. Fiscal 2022 will show a “small operating loss,” according to an email from a spokesperson. Financial statements for that year aren’t yet available.

Early this year, Presidio started evaluating its viability. The institution’s leaders decided it needed a merger partner and took proposals from different institutions, ultimately choosing University of Redlands.

“This merger is the right long-term solution for Presidio, providing stable financial backing for our programs while improving our student experience,” Presidio’s board chair, Suzanne Farver, said in a statement. “The board carefully evaluated our opportunities, and we were unanimous in our choice of the University of Redlands.”

Presidio’s board will cease to exist once the acquisition closes. But up to two current Presidio board members will receive invitations to become trustees for University of Redlands, and several administrators are expected to join the acquiring institution. 

Some downsizing is likely. 

University of Redlands plans to review staffing needs in the next few months. Its leaders don’t yet know exactly how staffing will change.

“There will be continuing opportunities for current Presidio faculty to continue teaching their courses for the University of Redlands,” University of Redlands President Krista Newkirk said in a statement.

University of Redlands is much larger than Presidio. University of Redlands has about 450 staff, over 200 full-time faculty members and more than 300 adjunct and part-time faculty. It enrolls more than 3,500 students, counting graduate students and undergraduates.

Presidio offices currently operate virtually, and it doesn’t own a physical campus. The acquisition will create the Presidio Center for Sustainable Solutions within the University of Redlands’ business school.

That business school changed its name recently to the School of Business & Society, which leaders said was an attempt to signal its commitment to environmental sustainability.

“This partnership fits hand-in-glove with our goals for the school and for our Marin Campus,” Thomas Horan, dean of the business school, said in a statement. “Presidio’s mission and its excellent sustainability and social justice curriculum is a highly valued complement to our own mission to empower our students to impact business and society positively, and environmental sustainability is a key aspect of this broader mission.”