On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Chief News Editor of The Campanil Tashandra Poullard conducted a two-part interview with Mills President Beth Hillman to discuss student concerns about changes in course curricula for Mills students who plan to continue at Mills following the school’s merger with Northeastern University.
Many Cyclones are stressed about the uncertainty of their current degree plans, as a number of majors will cease to exist in their current form, and some credits may not be accepted once the merger is finalized. Mills College declares on its website, “Mills and Northeastern have developed a collaborative process for bringing together our communities as we work through strategic and operational details involved in the transition leading up to our merger in July 2022.” Their stated objective for this merger is to make it possible for Mills and Northeastern to combine their resources and create a “distinctive, bicoastal university that empowers students, faculty, staff, and society at large.”
But this merger is also a nail-biting, gut-wrenching, nervous twitching source of panic that has many Millsies asking, “what’s next?” Professors without tenure have expressed nervousness about not having job security moving forward. Faculty and staff are uncertain about their employment status come next semester. Mills students are unsure if they will have enough money to pay for school because they are running out of financial aid. On top of everything, all of this is happening during a pandemic.
Two main concerns for Millsies newly looking to satisfy Northeastern University’s degree requirements are:
A. What are current students going to do about their current degree plans?
B. How will the new changes to the current curriculum affect the cost of an undergraduate degree of Mills College at Northeastern?
The Campanil dug deep into these questions by taking student concerns directly to the top of Mills’ leadership, asking for clarification. Millsies want to know which and how many degree plans will be transferred over from Northeastern that will still be congruent with Mills.
“Well, I think that it’s not exactly the same for anybody. It’s different for everybody, for our faculty who are going to be teaching and helping new students complete new programs essentially. But there are some [degree plans] that are a little bit more congruent than others,” Mills President Beth Hillman said in an interview with The Campanil. “We’ve been more focused on the ones that are a little bit more challenging. And in every one of those, we’ve been seeing the Northeastern faculty and administration try very hard to be creative in working with our faculty and now with our students.”
Hillman referenced the completion of a form that was recently distributed to all Mills students. This form would assist with mapping an accurate path to earning a degree with Mills at Northeastern. It is strongly recommended that all students discuss this form with their academic advisors. Hillman is confident that this form should assist students to achieve their education goals “relatively quickly so that every student should have a good sense of what’s possible.”
In some instances, students working towards a Bachelor of Arts at Mills will transition to a Bachelor of Science with Northeastern. This means a different set of requirements will be placed upon the same degree plan, which will also have a different name. Hillman says that, due to these changes, Mills leadership is working with Northeastern’s leadership to provide flexible ways to meet those requirements.
There are some programs with Northeastern that have higher credit requirements, and some of Mills’ programs actually have more requirements than their corresponding Northeastern program. Thus, the credit requirements to obtain one’s degree vary. And a plethora of degree programs are currently being remapped.
“Most of them [degree programs] are not too big, just because we’re Mills, we’re not especially big, but every one of them we’re trying to get ‘right’ in the best of possible ways for the outcomes that we want for our students,” Hillman stresses.
Here are some things to consider as the merger pertains to changes in tuition and fees:
Mills leadership does not want students to incur an increase in the cost. Hillman states that Mills administration is committed to not increasing the anticipated tuition and fees of current students while students work towards their Northeastern degree program requirements. Note that the achieved degree will still be from Mills College, and will still come with the specializations that students earned at Mills. However, Northeastern will be the authority that issues the degree, which will make it a Northeastern degree.
“We can control the tuition in fees, sometimes we can’t control all the other costs that are a part of that. So, to the extent that it does take longer, we want to do everything we can to mitigate the impact on students. And we certainly will with respect to tuition and fees,” Hillman said.
In response to the question, “So what does obtaining a Mills College at Northeastern degree mean for Mills students?” President Hillman responded, “We hope this means students who finish with Northeastern will not only be Mills College alumni, but they’ll be Northeastern alumni, and have access to all that Northeastern offers its graduates. So, we hope that if there is an additional need for investments from students in terms of time and course work, we hope that it will be worth it in terms of the payoff for being a part of that Northeastern group too.”
Will there be enough academic counselors and individuals processing paperwork employed to fulfill the needs of Mills and Northeastern students during the transition? Clerical errors are often one of the leading causes of missing deadlines, receiving funding, being “classed up” and graduating.
“I think so. And if there’s not we’ll get more,” Hillman confidently responded, indicating her commitment to resourcing the transition successfully. “We currently have Mills faculty working closely with Northeastern faculty to create a dynamic enrollment management team that will support both institutions.”
Hillman focused on the quality of academic support provided to students during this transition.
“Its best to have a single point of contact with a positive outcome of consistent and accurate results. The goal is to have a particular group of individuals that will handle specific student services and requests,” Hillman said. “There should be enough employees to give sufficient academic support students will receive timely answers and have access to critical information that will assist students with making informed decisions moving forward.”
Hillman wanted to make it clear that Mills will be adding a summer term where students can pick up some classes if there are a small number of units they still need to graduate before the end of June. Students will potentially be able to attend the term this year (July 2022); Hillman hopes that this extra measure will help some students who are close to completion. But for those students who are going to remain at Mills through the transition, they have the option to help Mills build the next version of what the Mills College programs should be.
“I hope we will reach more students, sustain Mills values, and we can actually push not just here in Oakland, but across the Northeastern network,” Hillman said in closing. In part two of the interview, Hillman addresses mental health, student organizations and the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students at Mills.