By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Despite declining enrollment, more students soon could be walking through the doors of Mount Washington College on Manor Parkway.
But that’s bittersweet news for officials of the former Hesser College. Plummeting enrollment in the last year has forced the college to shutter two of its five campuses, spokesman Stephen White said yesterday.
The Portsmouth and Concord campuses will close in December so the college can focus on maintaining its three other campuses in Salem, Manchester and Nashua, he said.
The college saw its total enrollment last year drop from 1,850 students to 1,450, making it difficult to continue to operate five campuses, White said.
“Mount Washington College has taken the difficult but necessary decision to consolidate its ground campuses in Southern New Hampshire, due, in part, to a smaller student census in recent years,” he said.
That consolidation should benefit the remaining campuses, he said.
“It allows us to make investments at the other campuses, including Salem,” White said. “There will be more investment in terms of facilities and more investment in terms of programs.”
White said it’s too early to say what specific improvements would be made.
The three remaining campuses will accept students from Portsmouth and Concord. Open houses are being scheduled at the campuses for the Portsmouth and Concord students, White said.
About 280 students currently take classes at the Salem campus, which opened in 2004.
Approximately 45 of Mount Washington College’s 380 employees will be laid off across the five campuses, White said. Most of those layoffs will affect the operations, admissions and financial aid departments.
The closures come only a year after declining enrollment and dwindling finances saw Chester College shut its doors as well. Senior citizen housing is now proposed for that campus.
White said a slumping economy and the rising cost of higher education has meant an overall decline in college enrollment across the country.
“That’s not unique to (Mount Washington College),” he said. “It’s down nationally 5 or 6 percent.”
He said the school remains economically viable to its full- and part-time students, many who work full-time time jobs while earning their degree. Tuition is approximately $6,000 a year, compared to $8,600 for in-state schools and $22,000 for out-of-state schools, he said.
The school changed its name in June to appeal to a broader spectrum of students.
White said he expects many of the nearly 400 students from the Portsmouth and Concord campuses to stay with the college and not transfer to other nearby schools.
One of those schools is Southern New Hampshire University, which has several campuses in the Granite State, including Salem and Portsmouth.
SNHU spokesman Gregg Mazzola said the university has yet to hear from Mount Washington students, but he expects it will soon.
“These students are getting their house in order to decide what to do next,” he said. “I’m sure we will have a lot of inquiries.”