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Bible College looks for new location

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Mike Kilgallin, president of Crossroads College, announced Wednesday that the Rochester-based Bible college was looking to merge with Hope International University based in California.
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Ever since his installation as president of Crossroads College in Rochester, Mike Kilgallin has pursued a simple mandate: Help free the century-old Bible college from the financial troubles that have brought it to the brink of closure.

Now, a solution may be within the college's grasp, but it would involve significant change.

On Wednesday, Kilgallin announced Crossroads has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif., to explore a merger of the Christian schools.

At the same time, Kilgallin said the college was putting its 38-acre campus in southwest Rochester up for sale with the hope of relocating Crossroads to a cheaper locale but one that would remain within Rochester.

"We're not leaving town," Kilgallin said. "We want to stay in Rochester but (are looking for) something more affordable and that fits the educational model that graduate programs will require."

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The move comes nearly two weeks after a visit by Hope International University President John Derry and an administration team to discuss the details of a merger. Hope is a thriving campus that serves 2,000 students with five campuses or colleges within its system. Crossroads serves about 100 students.

Derry said the common mission and heritage of the colleges made a merger a logical move. If a deal is done, Crossroads would become a branch of Hope International, its faculty and staff employees of Hope. Graduates going forward would be Hope International graduates. But the school would retain elements of its identity as a college rooted in Rochester since 1971, likely being called "Crossroads College - Hope International University," Derry said.

"From our perspective, it's mutually beneficial," Derry said in a phone interview from his office in Fullerton. "It brings new programs, it brings accreditation, things of that nature, to Crossroads. But it also opens up a new market for us."

Kilgillan, 57, didn't express any regrets at the prospect of selling the bucolic, tree-lined campus near Mayowood Road, the only home it has known since its move to Rochester. The college had put the campus on the market in 2009, but that was in the midst of a national economic downturn. While there were expressions of interest, there were no buyers at the time. This time figures to be different as the city is projected to double in population during the next 20 years.

"I'm a go-forward kind of guy," Kilgallin said in his tidy, plainly appointed office. "If you've lived under the oppression of financial stress long enough, anything looks good. And an opportunity to set us on a more solid financial foundation going forward is really exciting."

Colleges such as Crossroads have been going through stressful times for years, if not decades, due to declining enrollment and resources. But Crossroads added to its financial woes. Early last decade under a different president, the college built new housing with plans of growing enrollment. The students never arrived, even as the college's debt and interest payments rose.

When Kilgallin, a former banker and preacher, was hired as president in 2008, his instructions were to guide the college out of the financial morass that had shadowed the college for much of its history. His arrival, officials say, also coincided with a crisis period for higher education, particularly for smaller schools with specialized programs.

"These are the most stressful and traumatic times in the history of higher education in America," Derry said. "There's a lot of transition taking place today. And that's particularly true of a small school faced with changing demographics and that has limited programs."

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The merger under discussion would in fact be a three-way consolidation, with Nebraska Christian College in Omaha joining Crossroads in becoming branches of Hope International.

Kilgallin said the merger would benefit Crossroads in several ways. A consolidation would create efficiencies by eliminating redundancies. There would be no need for two presidents (Derry would become president, and Kilgallin likely would become a senior vice president or chief operating officer.) Support staff functions of the three colleges, such as financial aid and payroll, would be combined and brought under a single administration, and Crossroads would benefit from Hope's sizable investment in technology.

But the biggest advantage of a merger with Hope International likely would be educational. Crossroads, Kilgallin said, would be able to expand its undergraduate programs and begin offering graduate and MBA programs. Crossroads offers seven majors, while Hope offers 27. By combining, the expansion would come in both online classes and in more traditional settings.

"So what they're bringing this campus ... it's almost like marriage in the day of dowry," Kilgallin said. "They're bringing their dowry, and we get part of it. It's an amazing blessing."

Both presidents assessed the chances of a merger as good. And that a final decision would not be long in the making, perhaps as early as March, after six weeks of "very intensive" due diligence, Derry said.

"My philosophy is, there's no point to drag something like this out. You're not going to learn any more in six months than you can in six weeks," Derry said. "If a decision is to move forward and integrate and the accreditation association approves the action, then the integration would take place during the 2015-16 school year."

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