MCPHS has eye on optometry component.
WORCESTER - MCPHS University and New England College of Optometry have signed a letter of intent to explore the feasibility of combining the two educational institutions.
MCPHS President Charles F. Monahan Jr. said Tuesday such a partnership with the New England College of Optometry will give his university two separately accredited optometry schools and a presence in the field of optometry in Boston.
He said it would be a "very prestigious" move for MCPHS because NECO is the oldest continually operating college of optometry in the country.
Mr. Monahan said the faculty and students of both schools are very supportive of the potential move.
Founded in 1894, NECO provides a four-year, post-baccalaureate professional curriculum to about 475 students. The school is located on Beacon Street in Boston.
Meanwhile, MCPHS, founded in 1823, has more than 6,000 students pursuing both undergraduate and graduate degrees in approximately 50 academic programs on three campuses, located in Boston, Worcester and Manchester, N.H.
MCPHS founded its School of Optometry at its Worcester campus in 2011, at which time it became the 21st optometry school in the United States.
Given their past, present and future, officials from both colleges said, a natural synergy exists between the two institutions to support combining the two schools.
They said such a move would create an opportunity to expand NECO's highly respected brand and expertise in optometry to Worcester.
Steven P. Manfredi, chairman of the NECO board of trustees, said it is anticipated that MCPHS will provide significant continuing support and investment in NECO programs, facilities and equipment.
"In the weeks ahead, we will work with MCPHS leadership to articulate the numerous benefits to becoming part of a larger organization," Mr. Manfredi said. "We are confident that our focus on a high-quality optometry educational experience will be affirmed and that there will be continuity for current students, faculty and staff."
Mr. Monahan, meanwhile, said bringing together NECO and the MCPHS School of Optometry is "a perfect fit."
He said it would be similar to when MCHPS took over the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene in 2002. He said MCPHS kept the name of that school, as would happen in this instance with NECO.
He said NECO would also continue operating out of its facilities in Boston.
"We are two private, independent colleges; this will make us bigger and stronger," Mr. Monahan said in a telephone interview. "The combination of NECO with our (MCPHS) university will further strengthen the commitment of the two institutions to educating the next generations of health care professionals.
"We see a bright and growing future for NECO and the continuation of its position as a leader in optometric education and an opportunity for MCPHS University to continue to expand its depth and breadth in global health care education," he said.
City Manager Michael V. O'Brien said the combination of the two schools will have a positive impact on Worcester, where MCPHS has grown since first opening its Worcester campus in 2000. It has invested more than $350 million in the city since arriving here.
"Charlie and the (MCPHS) trustees continue to lock in strategic partners with very prestigious resumes, such as NECO, to further enhance their mission and academic excellence," Mr. O'Brien said in an interview. "What is good for MCPHS is great for our city. This potential partnership is just one more example.
"The optometry program here is already growing in leaps and bounds," he continued. "More students, faculty and staff in downtown brings one word to mind: priceless. To Charlie's credit, he has an amazing business sense and is constantly scanning the marketplace. He analyzes students' access to college-level health, medical and allied health services curriculum; scans geographically where these programs exist nationally and internationally; and then he moves like a venture capitalist to seize opportunities, close gaps and strengthen the workforce. He is very entrepreneurial."
Given today's economic environment, Mr. Monahan said, it is increasingly difficult for private colleges with fewer than 1,000 students to survive on their own.
MCPHS recently acquired a 3.5-acre property at Belmont and Lincoln streets - the former home of the Morgan Construction Co. - and intends to redevelop the property into rental apartments for its graduate students, staff and faculty.
That acquisition occurred less than four months after the Boston-based school announced it intends to double the number of students served by its Worcester campus over the next five to six years.
The MCPHS downtown campus has about 1,200 graduate-level students and 300 faculty and staff members.
To accommodate growth, the university last fall entered into an agreement to acquire 29 condominium units from a single owner at North High Gardens, 50-60 Salisbury St., across from the Worcester Art Museum. The addition of those units will enable faculty, staff and graduate students to live in college-owned housing close to MCPHS academic buildings.
"We continue to have big plans for Worcester," Mr. Monahan said.
PHOTOG: File Photo/RICH DUGAS
CUTLINE: MCPHS University President Charles F. Monahan Jr. explains how former Crowne Plaza hotel rooms will become dorm rooms in this 2011 file photo.