Published April 28. 2014 9:52AM Updated April 28. 2014 11:56PM
Old Lyme — The Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, a small college that teaches the traditional disciplines of figurative and representational fine art, is becoming part of the University of New Haven.
The institutions jointly announced Monday that the governing bodies of each have approved a proposal to make Lyme Academy UNH’s sixth college and first bachelor of fine arts program. The Connecticut Office of Higher Education and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges have aproved the move.
The academy’s mission will remain the same, as will its commitment to small classes, said Lyme Academy College President Scott Colley. It will gain student-recruitment support and financial oversight from UNH while remaining “semi-autonomous.”
Lyme Academy College students will have access to UNH’s liberal arts programs and the ability to attend classes at UNH’s campus in Tuscany, Italy.
Colley said, “We’re very happy to be affiliated with the University of New Haven. In the vernacular, you could call it a happening place. It’s a dynamic university with dynamic leadership.”
Enrollment and financial issues prompted the move. In October, a Lyme Academy board member broached the subject of a possible partnership to a UNH board member, said UNH President Steven H. Kaplan. Kaplan said he saw potential for the two organizations to work together and it all happened quickly from there. The Lyme Academy’s Board of Trustees and UNH’s Board of Governors each unanimously approved the new affiliation earlier this month.
Lyme Academy College currently has 73 full- and part-time students. It reached an enrollment peak in 2008, with 108 full-time and 28 part-time students. The goal is to have 120 to 125 total students in three years.
Kaplan said, “The accrediting bodies said (Lyme Academy) had amazing academic programs. In every respect, their facilities, their faculty, quality of students were all exceptional.”
But it was becoming more challenging to operate as such a small independent college.
“Especially in the last five years, a lot of schools saw their enrollments decline because of the economic challenges families were facing,” Kaplan said. “I think that brought a realization to the Lyme board that it might be much more functional for them to operate with a partner.”
Students will still get a degree from Lyme Academy; the diploma will say it’s the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts of the University of New Haven. UNH will manage the academy’s finances. Any funds that Lyme Academy College raises will stay at the school.
Tuition will remain as planned, with the Lyme board recommending any increases. Lyme Academy College students will pay $28,824 for 2014-15. UNH’s tuition is $33,330. Those totals do not include room and board.
Kaplan said, “Financially, over the next two or three years, we know that we’re going to have to invest there, until they can get to a point where their enrollment has picked up and they’ll be financially viable again.”
UNH has a large recruitment staff, which visits 1,000 high schools a year and almost 1,000 colleges, Kaplan said. Now, Lyme Academy College will be represented at all of them.
“Just by virtue of that, they should be able to increase their enrollment, which will give them the financial strength they need to enhance the program there,” Kaplan said.
UNH will cover any operating shortfalls over the next few years as Lyme enrollment grows. Right now, Lyme is dependent on fundraising for operations. The aim is to get to a point where there are enough students and tuition income that funds raised can go toward enhancing the campus and programs.
Colley noted that affiliation with a midsized university gives students access to a career counseling office with a staff of seven, a bigger library and a range of liberal arts courses beyond what Lyme can offer.
“There are economies of scale, no question about it, that allow us to do what we do best while working with University of New Haven, which does what it does best,” he said.
There have been questions about a potential loss of independence for the college.
“This is a big change,” Colley said. “I’ve always been talking to staff in the analogy of a marriage. You get married, and things change. Is that a loss of independence, or is it a new way of living your life? ... You can’t go into a partnership without give and take. But President Kaplan has constantly spoken to us as semi-autonomous. He wants us to be exactly who and what we are, because that’s our distinction.”
Kaplan said when one Lyme student asked him what’s in this for UNH, he replied that it adds some very talented artists to UNH’s student profile. UNH’s other five schools are the College of Arts and Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, and College of Lifelong and eLearning.
Lyme Academy was founded in 1976 by sculptor Elisabeth Gordon Chandler to teach the fundamentals of drawing, painting and sculpting. The school began offering a bachelor’s degree program in 1996.
In the past few years, the college has built 12 townhouse dormitories that can house 48 students and renovated the Sill House, a historic building purchased in 1983 that holds galleries, offices and meeting spaces.
Lyme Academy College offers B.F.A.s in drawing, illustration, painting, and sculpture, as well as certificates in painting and sculpture, a post-baccalaureate program. It offers continuing education for adults and a pre-college program for ages 15 to 18.