Willamette University and Pacific Northwest College of Art Sign Agreement for PNCA to Become Part of University

September 17, 2020

PNCA will Join Willamette as an Independent College within the University

Sept. 17, 2020—Willamette University and Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) announced today that they have entered into an agreement for the Northwest’s oldest professional school of art and design to become an integral part of the region’s premier liberal arts university.

This relationship will allow the two institutions to pursue deeper and more permanent collaborative engagements through academic programs and shared administrative support, as well as to create cost-controlling efficiencies.

"PNCA becoming part of Willamette University positions the Northwest’s oldest school of art and design as an integral – and integrated – piece of the region’s premier liberal arts university," said Willamette University President Stephen Thorsett. "This coming-together builds on the distinguished histories of both institutions, which were the first in Oregon to offer art instruction. Together, this combination will amplify the Northwest as a cultural and economic hub for the arts and innovative leadership."

Under the agreement, which is expected to receive regulatory and accreditor approvals in 2021, PNCA will be an independent college and part of Willamette University. PNCA will maintain its name, faculty, and campus in Portland. The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, as well as PNCA’s other academic centers and collections, will also become a part of Willamette University under the agreement.

"The decision by PNCA to enter into discussions with Willamette University was intentional and strategic for the college’s future," said PNCA Board Chair Scott D. Musch. “For more than 100 years, PNCA has contributed to the cultural vibrancy of the region. We are confident as PNCA joins Willamette that the college's legacy and longstanding commitment to our students will be further enhanced."

PNCA will become the fourth college within the university, joining the Willamette University College of Law, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. It also joins the affiliated Claremont School of Theology and Tokyo International University of America.

"The joining of these institutions will unlock enormous potential and new opportunities for students while helping shape the art world," said James Cuno, president and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust and a Willamette alumnus. "For PNCA students, Willamette's distinguished, comprehensive programs in the liberal arts, law and management offer a practical foundation for vibrant creative fields from arts management to user-experience design and digital marketing. At the same time, PNCA's deep well of creative insight will give Willamette students a stronger, meaningful grounding in the arts to elevate their lifelong growth. Together, these communities will build up the practical application and influence of the arts across society – right when we need the arts the most.”

The relationship will deepen the connections among art, design and the liberal arts and sciences, building a foundation for new thought and expressions in subjects such as racial and social justice, climate change and health. PNCA students will have access to the breadth of curricular offerings at Willamette, including business and science courses, and benefit from its proximity to policymaking and government in Salem. Willamette students will benefit from the broader fine and visual arts and design offerings provided by PNCA, as well as the culture and creativity of its community in Portland.

Based in Salem, Oregon, Willamette University is the premier private liberal arts university in the Pacific Northwest—the only university in the country that appears on both the U.S. News Best National Liberal Arts Colleges list and the Forbes and Businessweek best business schools list. With its unique proximity to the state capital, Willamette is a national leader in civic engagement, delivering an "Only at Willamette" education.

Pacific Northwest College of Art empowers artists and designers to reimagine what art and design can do in the world. Founded in 1909 as the Museum Art School in Portland, Oregon, PNCA offers 11 art and design Bachelor of Fine Art programs, eight graduate programs including Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts programs within the Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies, a Post-Baccalaureate program, and Community Education courses for artists and designers of all ages. For the latest information, please visit www.willamette.edu and www.pnca.edu.

Timeline and benefits

When was the decision to enter this agreement made official?

The Boards of Willamette University and PNCA, respectively, approved the agreement on September 16, 2020.

What is the timeline for this process and when might tangible changes take place?

Willamette and PNCA leadership engaged in a comprehensive conversation about this relationship over the past several months, and Willamette conducted an in-depth review of PNCA’s finances and operations. This agreement still requires a number of regulatory and accreditation approvals. The agreement is anticipated to be finalized in early 2021.

How was this decision made, and why were these discussions kept private until now?

Joining with Willamette provides new opportunities for PNCA students while offering greater stability for PNCA’s future. Both communities will see expanded academic benefits as students and faculty explore new offerings and opportunities for learning. More broadly, this relationship is part of Willamette’s effort to identify areas where we can be a distinctive leader at the regional and national levels, to facilitate collaborations that add breadth and depth unobtainable in small colleges and stand-alone professional schools, and to build institutional scale that achieves efficiency and cost controls. As to the privacy question, Willamette and PNCA entered into an exclusive agreement to engage in a comprehensive review to determine the viability of joining together.

How does this decision align to Willamette’s mission and benefit the community?

This relationship will help foster meaningful collaborations, enrich the educational experience and inspire new ways of thinking about the key issues of our time. Students will benefit from advanced interdisciplinary experiences and benefit from the hallmarks of place and the social capital of each institution. It builds on the distinguished histories of both schools, which were the first in Oregon to offer art instruction. Together, they will reimagine the future of arts education in the Pacific Northwest and strengthen the arts as an economic, cultural and creative driver for the region.

How does PNCA benefit from this relationship?

Becoming part of a similarly minded academic community will allow PNCA to continue providing the arts education it is known for, while taking advantage of the financial benefits of being a part of a larger university. Joining with Willamette will provide new opportunities for PNCA students academically.

Campus and finances

Don't relationships like this mean schools are struggling financially? Does this mean that Willamette is closing?

Despite the short term challenges all higher education institutions face with COVID, Willamette is financially strong, second only to Reed among Oregon schools in per student resources. Sometimes excellent programs are best grown organically within the university, as we have recently done with data science, but strategic arrangements with institutions that have built national-calibre faculties and strong programs in specific disciplines is a strategy Willamette has successfully used to expand its mission of educating leaders for the region and world in areas where building top-quality programs from scratch would be impossible. Willamette’s distinctive small university model, with autonomous but coupled faculties and centralized administrative support, offers an attractive alternate model that allows them to continue their own distinctive missions with the academic and administrative support of a larger university and a more efficient business model to help hold down student costs.

Will this create one institution with two campuses, or two institutions that are closely affiliated?

PNCA will be an integrated part of Willamette University, becoming the Pacific Northwest College of Art at Willamette University. It will maintain its identity, faculty and campus in Portland as it becomes Willamette’s fourth independent college.

Does this mean that the two schools will continue to operate, or will eventually PNCA turn into a Willamette presence in Portland?

PNCA will remain a separate school within Willamette University, located in Portland, and will keep its focus on professional education in art and design, while Salem will remain the home of Willamette’s undergraduate programs in the liberal arts and sciences and in business. In addition to PNCA, Willamette has longstanding Portland based MBA programs as well as a new MS in Data Science. In addition to its faculty and academic programs, Willamette’s campus in Salem offers new resources for PNCA students, including the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, the Hatfield Library, and the Pacific Northwest Artists Archives.

What is the impact of this discussion on Willamette's finances?

Willamette is committed to developing institutional scale that achieves efficiency and cost controls. Paired with other emerging relationships, we’re building greater institutional scale that helps achieve those goals.

Impact on existing art programs

Why is Willamette adding an art school?

The addition of the Pacific Northwest College of Arts to Willamette University elevates the Northwest’s oldest professional school of art and design into an integral – and integrated – part of the region’s premier liberal arts university, itself the first school in the West to offer art instruction. Together, they will reimagine the future of arts education in the Pacific Northwest and strengthen the arts as an economic, cultural, and creative driver for the region.

How will this impact Willamette’s existing arts programs?

Willamette’s BA programs in studio art and creative writing are complementary to PNCA’s BFA, MFA, and BA degrees, while Willamette’s programs in music and theatre significantly expand the breadth of arts instruction and scholarship in the merged institution. It is expected that degrees will continue to be offered at both sites, but that both arts majors and non-majors at Willamette will have expanded access to a broader range of arts disciplines and courses.

If I'm a student interested in art, why should I apply to Willamette? Or should I be applying to PNCA?

Willamette will continue to offer the BA degree in Studio Art in the College of Arts and Sciences, which remains an excellent choice for students who would like to study art in the context of a broad-based liberal arts education, or students who wish to combine a major or minor in art with study in another discipline. Students interested in professional education in art and design may choose to pursue a BFA at PNCA, with a more concentrated focus on art and creative practice. Students in both programs will benefit from the broader resources available across the university after the relationship is completed.

What will happen to PNCA’s Museum of Contemporary Craft collection?

The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, as well as PNCA’s other academic centers and collections, will also become a part of Willamette University under the agreement.

How will PNCA’s history, culture, and identity be maintained with the integration?

Both Willamette and PNCA have long-standing commitments to the arts. One of the reasons that Willamette was drawn to this opportunity is because of PNCA’s rich history, culture, and identity. While PNCA will become an independent college that’s part of Willamette University, the intention is to retain that rich cultural focus that has made PNCA the leading art institution in the Pacific Northwest. Moreover, the combined strength of Willamette and PNCA means that there will be expanded opportunities for students and faculties of both organizations.


Will students from both institutions be able to take courses and participate in campus activities at the other school?

Yes. Many new opportunities will exist for both PNCA and Willamette students. These will be more fully realized over the course of the coming months and year.

Will this have any impact on students applying to Willamette this year?


How does this benefit students?

It will impact students in positive and exciting ways, providing greater academic opportunities for them to explore their course of study. Many new opportunities will exist for Willamette and PNCA students. These will be more fully realized in the near future identifying how students can access subjects ranging from business management to law and foreign language.

How does this affect faculty?

There are no immediate plans to offer other courses or programs from the Salem campus in Portland, but there may be opportunities for arts and sciences or management faculty in the future to offer courses in Portland aimed at PNCA students, to leverage the facilities in Portland to offer courses to Willamette students that would benefit from the urban environment, or to use “owl seminar room” technology to offer courses that simultaneously serve students in both locations. The PNCA faculty will remain the faculty of the college and will consult with their dean and Willamette to determine the requirements and composition of their faculty, including any teaching at PNCA by faculty from Willamette.


How can I help? What are the most critical components of this relationship in need of funding?

As part of stewardship, Willamette is committed to working with donors to ensure that current and future gifts are put to use on projects that they are passionate about and that support the collective future of the arts and arts education.

Will my financial gift continue to benefit the PNCA community specifically?

Gifts that have been specifically dedicated by the donor to identified purposes will continue to honor those gift agreements. As well, donors will continue to have the discretion to direct their giving to specific PNCA purposes in the future.

Will there be more opportunities for volunteering with PNCA?

It is expected that current volunteer opportunities will remain, in addition to broader community opportunities.

Will these students (who may potentially cross-enroll in Salem and Portland campuses) have any impact on Salem-to-Downtown PDX transportation offerings?

At the moment, we are still in the integration phase. As part of that work, we will be looking at transportation and other essential considerations to ensure collaborative access by the entire community.