Timeline and benefits

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

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

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.

Willamette University

For questions about PNCA contact:

Marketing and Communications
Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301
503-370-6667 voice
503-370-6153 fax

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