Pit Stop #24: Pine Manor College

Once Betty and I staggered back to Boston after 13 days on the road, I realized we had only 23 posts in the bank, but had promised 25. A problem easily fixed, of course. I decided to request a visit with President Tom O’Reilly at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, thirty minutes from NECHE’s office.  For those of who don’t know Boston geography, this part of Chestnut Hill lies in Brookline–a very tony neighborhood, with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the country. So tony, in fact, that seven years ago in an effort to bolster the school’s finances, Pine Manor sold five acres of its lovely campus to Tom Brady for his family home next door. On my drive over, I realized Pine Manor’s story could be a fascinating and very different one to share. President O’Reilly was completely on board with the change in plans, and as you will read and hear, he has had a lot of experience with plans changing. 

President & Student bonding is a Pine Manor thing.

Pine Manor was founded in 1911 and was historically a women’s college until 2014.  But making the switch to coed education six years ago is the least of the changes Pine Manor has seen.  In the conference room where we met, there were two photos, one over the other. As you can see, it’s not just the color of the clothes the students are wearing that has changed; it’s also the color of the faces. Pine Manor has gone from a post-graduate program serving an all-girls’ preparatory school (all young women and all white) to an institution that primarily serves first generation students of color, around 350 in number, about 90% of whom are Pell-eligible.

2 photos, one of black women students; one white.

President O’Reilly is almost five years into his tenure. He came to Pine Manor after a long and successful career in business, but always with a hand in the world of education. He served on the Pine Manor Board two decades ago, was an elected member of the Boston School Committee, and a trustee of the Boston Latin School Association. Even after a corporate career where he faced constant challenges, I suspect the last five years at Pine Manor tops them all. O’Reilly’s strategic approach to handling crises has always been always been to have a Plan A and a Plan B. In this case, Plan A was restoring Pine Manor to health, while keeping its commitment to social justice. As 2020 got underway, he was feeling pretty good about the chances of that plan working out: A capital campaign was about to be launched, retention and graduation rates were increasing, and revenue had been diversified with almost 50% coming from places other than tuition, room and board. And then COVID struck and with very little available cash in the bank, Plan B, a plan that he and the Board had simultaneously been working on, became more urgent.

Larry’s artsy shot (with himself and President O’Reilly reflected in the glass)

President O’Reilly shares this story in detail in my podcast below, but the bottom line is that within just a matter of weeks, Pine Manor reached an agreement with nearby Boston College to become its partner. Under this agreement, Pine Manor College, renowned for serving underrepresented populations, will join forces with Boston College, a Catholic Jesuit university with longstanding success in educating immigrant and first-generation students, in an educational partnership of mutual benefit that will accelerate and expand Pine Manor College’s mission. The agreement establishes the Pine Manor Institute for Student Success, endowed with $50 million from Boston College, to fund outreach and academic support programs for underserved, low-income students.

Beautiful stairwell at PMC

Boston College will assume responsibility for Pine Manor College along with its assets and liabilities, and Pine Manor students will be able to remain at their school in a “teach out” agreement for a period of up to two years.  Students currently deposited or enrolled at Pine Manor will continue their degree programs in classes taught by Pine Manor faculty on the Pine Manor campus, and Boston College will subsidize the cost of operations to support the “teach out.” Pine Manor students who gain admission to the Boston College Woods College of Advancing Studies can also choose to finish their Bachelor of Arts degree at BC. Importantly, all Pine Manor College students will continue to receive the financial aid necessary to meet their cost of attendance. And according to the memo of understanding, Pine Manor faculty and staff not engaged in the continued functioning of the college can immediately apply for positions at Boston College, while those not retained will be eligible for outplacement assistance and severance. 

Pine Manor cushion on chair
For 2 years, Pine Manor students can remain at the college in a teach-out arrangement with BC.

Every college partnership, merger, or acquisition we’ve studied is both highly emotional and utterly unique, but it certainly appears that this one was well-managed from beginning to end. Apparently, it’s always good to have a Plan B.

Listen to my compelling conversation with President O’Reilly about all his plans below.

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