Belmont University will acquire O’More School of Design in Franklin this year through a merger that one official said reflects “a challenging time in higher education.”‘
O’More offers bachelor’s degrees in graphic design, interior design, and fashion design and merchandising. Those programs and the college’s students will move this fall to Belmont’s campus in Nashville.
Belmont University will acquire O’More College of Design
Larry McCormack / The Tennessean
The move will effectively dissolve Williamson County’s only four-year college, an institution that is almost 50 years old.
O’More President Shari Fox said the college is stable financially,but said that the administration had been working for some time to establish a long-term future for the school
Low enrollment and limited revenue growth have forced many small colleges to fold in recent years. The rate of small colleges closing or merging with larger colleges was predicted to rise by 2017, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education report.
Last year, a spate of small colleges closed their doors, according to reports.
“It’s a challenging time in higher education, particularly for small colleges,” Fox said. “We decided to start an exploratory phase to try to secure the legacy, mission and programs of O’More. The idea of a merger with a stronger institution quickly rose to the top, and Belmont was our first choice.”
Belmont was immediately receptive.
Bob Fisher, Belmont University president, said the university did not pay any money for O’More.
“It’s not a cost, it is a merging of assets,” said Bob Fisher, Belmont University president, in an exclusive interview with The Tennessean on Monday. “We acquire their balance sheet, we acquire their liabilities and we acquire the assets.”
An opportunity to offer students more
School officials say the merger will better set up students to take advantage of Nashville’s growing design and fashion industry.
Nashville is primed to benefit from design education, thanks to a rapidly growing industry, according to a 2017 Nashville Fashion Alliance economic report.
O’More — which has about 150 students— wanted to equip its students with more resources, Fox said.
Most of the college’s programs will be housed in Belmont’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. Belmont will expand its Design Communications program with the influx of O’More’s graphic design students.
Belmont has student housing, career placement services and general education courses that aren’t offered by O’More, Fox said.
“It was a decision that we decided was wisely timed,” Fox said. “To extend our reach for our students, to give them more than what we can as a small institution.”
The future is unclear for O’More’s campus and faculty
It’s unclear how many of O’More’s 28-person full-time staff will keep their jobs after the acquisition.
“We’re not at the point to say who will or will not be part of the deal,” Fisher said. “The students are all coming, but we have the capacity to do some of the jobs that are being done there, here, without additional people.”
It’s also unclear what will become of O’More’s seven-acre campus in downtown Franklin.
“It’s a historically significant spot,” Fisher said. “Our first choice would be to find a way to preserve that and support that.”
A chance for Belmont to grow
The announcement comes in the midst of record-setting growth for Belmont.
The institution has harnessed Nashville’s rising profile to dramatically increase the size of its enrollment, stature and campus footprint.
Enrollment has increased from 2,976 students in 2000 to 8,080 last fall. During the same time period, the university has poured more than $538 million into construction.
Fisher has led the aggressive growth, establishing a law school in 2012, and recruiting high-profile faculty like former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who serves as dean of the law school. Fisher has also coaxed multimillion-dollar donations from some of the region’s deepest pockets.
“Scale really matters in higher education,” Fisher said, adding that size is one of the challenges that O’More faced.
The chance to add O’More’s programs to Belmont is an opportunity that Fisher has eyed for some time, especially as the school carves its identity in the city’s competitive college landscape.
“The programs that will be coming to us from O’More are programs that we’ve been interested in for quite some time,” Fisher said. “I didn’t feel like we had the capacity to start that on our own.”
About the acquisition
- The new O’More School of Design at Belmont University will open its doors this fall.
- The O’More School of Design will be housed in Belmont’s College of Visual and Performing Arts.
- Belmont University will also expand its design communications program with the influx of O’More graphic designers.
About O’More College of Design
- 28 full-time staff members
- Full-time tuition per semester: $14,490
- The school currently has 55 students in its fashion program, 40 in graphic design and 60 in interior design.
- O’More was established in 1970.
- O’More offers the only BFA Interior Design program in Middle Tennessee to be fully accredited by the international Council for Interior Design Accreditation.
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