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Chinese university considers adding a campus in New Hampshire

  • Students walk through the now defunct Daniel Webster College campus in the fall of 2016. Telegraph file



Monitor staff
Thursday, October 26, 2017

UPDATE: It now appears that the Chinese University of Hong Kong was not the winning bidder – rather, it was another, but as yet unidentified, Chinese university. 

The possibility that the Chinese University of Hong Kong will take over the defunct Daniel Webster College in Nashua and turn it into a branch of the Asian college could open up a new chapter in New Hampshire’s long history of higher education.

“I think you can safely say it would be a first for New Hampshire,” said Mike Vlacich, president of the New Hampshire College and University Council. “But it’s premature to say. ... We have reached out to their attorney to introduce ourselves and get more information about what their plans are for New Hampshire.”

The Chinese University of Hong Kong was the winning bidder for the defunct college, which shut down in May after years of financial problems as a non-profit college and a tumultuous few years of ownership by for-profit ITT Educational Services, Inc., which went bankrupt last year.

A federal bankruptcy judge has approved the purchase by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which said it wants to open a satellite campus on the Nashua campus.

If the university goes ahead with the $11.6 million purchase and applies to become an accredited, degree-granting university that holds classes in New Hampshire, it would be the first foreign school ever to do so.

The former Chester College in the town of Chester was bought by Jiahui Educational Group, part of a Chinese conglomerate, and has been turned into a summer academy for high schoolers, but is not being used as a university.

The Hellenic American University, based in Nashua and affiliated with Hellenic College in Athens, Greece, is accredited in New Hampshire and enrolls students in the state, but doesn’t hold undergraduate classes here. It does offer English as a second language certificate and a masters of business administration in the state.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong would be the first new university in New Hampshire since tiny Thomas More College of Liberal Arts was created in Merrimack in 1978.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, founded in 1963, says it has about 29,000 students and is pushing to expand worldwide. It offers a full slate of academic degrees but does not appear to have any educational facilities outside Hong Kong.

“We’re excited with what’s happening in Nashua right now, between Rivier University, the community college ... and Southern New Hampshire University,” Vlacich said. “We’re seeing another region of New Hampshire developing a strong higher education cluster. Once we learn more about this new institution we’ll have a better sense about what potential contribution they can give to New Hampshire.”

Daniel Webster College was founded in 1965 as an aviation institute, and for most of its history its identity was closely linked to the Nashua Airport, which is next to the campus.

Financial problems led to Daniel Webster College being sold in 2009 to ITT Technical Institutes. ITT ran into a crackdown on for-profit institutions by the U.S. Department of Education, which cut off the school’s access to financial aid, leading to ITT’s 2016 bankruptcy.

Manchester-based SNHU took over operations of Daniel Webster College for the remainder of the 2016-2017 academic year, but chose not to buy the 53-acre campus from ITT.

SNHU was one of several bidders in the bankruptcy auction, and while it didn’t buy the campus as a whole, it did buy the school’s flight center and hangar on the airport grounds, as well as the  control tower, for $410,000.

(David Brooks can be   reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)